THE lack of enforceable legislation to tackle the misuse of scramblers in the city is a frustration for Gardaí, members of Limerick City and County Council heard, as serious concerns were raised about the perceived “breakdown of law and order” in Limerick.
Speaking at a special meeting with councillors for the Metropolitan District on Thursday last (September 7), Garda Superintendent Andrew Lacey explained that the new scrambler legislation, when passed into law, will give members of An Garda Síochana new powers, including the power to enter a dwelling (if connected to an offence) as part of an investigation.
However, at present, Supt Lacey pointed out, Gardaí must wait for parts of the Road Traffic and Roads Act 2023 to be enacted by the Minister for Justice.
“We can only act within the provisions of that. Just the mere presence of a bike in a dwelling does not give us the right to search and seize. It has to be connected with a criminal offence,” Supt Lacey explained.
Supt Lacey added that, under the new legislation, Gardaí in some cases will also be able to seize and dispose of “certain elements” of scrambler bikes in cases where they have been identified as being part of a dangerous driving or reckless behaviour offence.
“But, at the current time, if the owner of those bikes come back to the Garda station with a receipt for that bike, we are obliged by law to return it to them.”
According to the Superintendent, the new act also looks at the age profile of the users of scrambler bikes and e-scooters, with a provision for riders needing to be 16 or over.
“Most of the persons engaged in this anti-social behaviour are under the age of 16,” he said.
The difficult part in policing the scrambler issue throughout the city, council members were informed, is the identification of those using the vehicles on account of balaclavas and face coverings.
Superintendent Lacey went on to say that there is no standalone offence for that, but said it had been recommended that helmets become mandatory.
He added that while e-scooters are a concern for Gardaí in terms of collisions, scramblers are more of an anti-social concern.
“We do realise that they’re being used in this city as a tool for the sale and supply of drugs,” Supt Lacey explained, adding that some elements in the city are exploting the fact that Gardaí “have a difficulty around around the pursuit of persons on bikes without helmets at a certain age”.
Limerick councillors voiced their concerns at the meeting in County Hall over the lack of an enactment of the legislation, which has left communities continually terrorised by public order issues from the improper use of scrambler bikes.
Fianna Fáil councillor Catherine Slattery, who called the special meeting with members of An Garda Síochána, took the view that anti-social behaviour is at an all-time high in the city. She called for 24-hour visible police patrols around the city centre and housing estates to tackle anti-social behaviour and the scourge of scramblers.
The City East representative went onto say that open drug dealing is taking place in the city, as well as prostitution.
“There are sex workers every night at Pery Square who are drawing cars around the area, walkers are frightened to walk this area at night.
“This area is one of our main tourist Georgian areas and visible police patrols should be policing this area, as well as the People’s Park, where open drug dealing is occurring all day every day and at night.”
Former Limerick Mayor Cllr Kieran O’Hanlon told Gardaí that elderly people are afraid to go out onto footpaths for fear of being knocked down by scramblers.
“I was up in Southill a few weeks ago and I saw about ten of them where we used to have lovely houses and it was like Mondello Park. It’s just not good enough,” Cllr O’Hanlon declared.
Green Party councillor Seán Hartigan reiterated these concerns, describing a real fear among people in the Metropolitan District that there’s currently a breakdown of law and order on the streets.
“Some people are genuinely afraid to walk our city streets, in our villages and in our recreational spaces due to scramblers, which have reached epidemic levels, and because of the gangs of youths who drive them for their entertainment in intimidating and harassing people,” Cllr Hartigan claimed.
“People are afraid to use our riverbanks and greenways for fear of being knocked down, harassed, and abused. There is a perception out there, rightly or wrongly, that areas that cannot be accessed by cars are totally unpoliced. I cycle the urban greenway along the Plassey riverbank into the city most days and I have yet to see any evidence of a police presence.”