The fiscal cost of the recent Traveller feud on local resources was further highlighted this week, when it emerged that the City Council is facing a huge bill to cover the cost of houses fire-bombed during the hostilities.

The local authority owns eleven of the fourteen houses that were fire-damaged during the lengthy dispute and repairs to these properties is set to run from €5,000 to €30,000 per house, Monday evening’s monthly meeting heard. Discussing a report from the city’s Joint Policing Committee (JPC), a number of councillors expressed concern about the strain on local resources, at a time when the country was in an economic crisis.

Also under discussion was the impact of changes in the garda boundaries from 1st January 2009, which will see most districts reshaped along local authority boundaries. Cllr Pat Hayes said he feared Ferrybank’s garda station might be closed, while Cllr Seamus Ryan added that community policing needed to be strengthened and once again called for a garda substation in the Ward 3 area. Cllr Davy Walsh said assurances had been given that Ferrybank garda station would stay within the city boundary, ‘if and when it is built’.

Cllr Joe Kelly recommended that the number of gardai assigned to the Waterford area stay the same when the garda districts are reshaped. “At the moment, people who contact the barracks [Ballybricken Garda Station] often have to wait one or two hours before a garda comes to their home”, he commented.

Cllr Tom Cunningham said the level of communication and dialogue at JPC meetings was limited. That was no fault of the councillors, he said, “and it would be helpful if there was a similar degree of input from all sources”.

Developing his point, he said it was only with the full participation of all involved that full benefit could be reaped (he declined afterwards to say who he was talking about).

He also decried the lack of interest in JPC meetings on the part of the public. “There are serious community policing issues, which are of particular concern to inner city residents and it is a pity more of the public are not interested in attending the meetings, which are open to them”, he commented.

Cllr Cha O’Neill, in a reference to a lack of CCTV at potential trouble spots around the city, said lots of poles had been erected but without cameras they only served as perches for crows.

Cllr Tom Murphy said that while gardai did a fine job, manpower was scarce.

Mayor Jack Walsh said the Council’s overall policy in combating anti-social behaviour was to encourage greater community policing. But that was a political issue and it was up to individual public representatives to pressurise the Minister for Justice. He also said there was a need for gardai engaged in community policing to have career development and promotion open to them, so that top men would be attracted to that area of service.