Dermot Keyes reports
Traders who have spoken to The Munster Express in recent weeks said they have “a lot of sympathy” for the locally assigned Area Garda, Alan White, who “is doing a great job and follows up on things as quickly as he can, but, when all is said and done, he’s only one Guard”.
The traders, who preferred to remain anonymous, said they were keen to see “every possible step made” to ensure the John Roberts Square/George’s Street/Barronstrand Street area remained as family and shopper friendly as possible.
“Things are fine a good deal of the time,” said one trader, “and I can’t say enough good things about Garda White, but it’s got to the stage where there are people coming into Waterford – a good few of them from outside the city – to steal on the days they know he won’t be on duty, and they have it down to a tee at this stage.”
She continued: “We’re literally invested in the city centre, I love working here, we have a lovely city and we want as many visitors as possible to see all that we have going for us, but we’re the ones who end up seeing what goes on here – the good and the bad – people stealing, people strung out on drugs and so on; we’d just like to see Garda White getting a bit more support.”
A security guard on a tea break told this newspaper on Thursday last: “It’s bad enough when you see fellas buying stuff off each other, but more than a few times you’d see them ‘sparking up’. You think they’d have the sense to go off home and do whatever it is they’re going to do, but a lot of these people are just shameless. Sure when they’re off their heads, they don’t care what anyone else thinks.”
On the Saturday prior to the general election (February 20th), during Tánaiste Joan Burton’s visit to canvass with outgoing TD Ciara Conway, an Armed Response vehicle appeared from Jenkins’ Lane car park, while a ‘Paddywagon’ rolled into position near Arundel Lane.
“Twenty-three Guards, that’s how many I counted,” a well-known local soccer official told me that morning, when joining in on a conversation between photographer John Power and myself outside the Book Centre.
“Ask anyone walking up and down here most days of the week, and you’ll see a few lads sitting on the benches over there, slipping something out of a sock and selling it. And how many Guards do you see most mornings down around here? One, if you’re lucky, and to think the station is only up the (Patrick Street) hill.”
He continued: “I was down here on Monday morning and I saw two lads leathering each other just over there (pointing beyond the public seating, towards the marble ‘street sculpture’; someone working in one of the shops rang the Guards and no-one appeared down here for almost 40 minutes. And sure they were long gone by that stage.
“And then I come down here this morning, as I do most Saturdays, and the place is flooded with Guards, all because of one person, who no-one is going to bother anyway, I’d imagine (and no-one did). It just makes no sense to me.”
In a bid to counteract drug taking in publicly-accessible toilets (at fast food restaurants and other retail outlets), several businesses have installed different styles of lighting in their cubicles in an attempt to curb drug users from shooting up in a range of locations.
But to counteract this, addicts have begun to mark their veins with a pen prior to ‘availing of the facilities’ in such light-adjusted cubicles, according to another city centre trader.
Speaking at the launch of An Garda Síochána’s Victim Support Service at Waterford Garda Station last December, Chief Superintendent Pat Murphy stated: “Naturally, we want to bring more business into our city; we’re keen to grow Waterford and it’s welcome to report that the pilot VSO scheme (which is now nationwide) has proven such a success with those who have had to engage with it.
“This is a safe city, a beautiful city full of warm and wonderful people, and I have no hesitation in stating that we have a Garda service that the community can trust, that we have a community that continues to co-operate excellently with us, and it’s a service that I as Chief Superintendent am very proud of.”
City centre traders were keen to stress that they didn’t want to be seen to “over-egg” the issues they’re facing, and singled out Garda White for his invaluable work. “He just needs a bit more help.”
Retailers have liaised closely with Waterford Gardaí over the past 18 months to two years, and both Waterford Chamber and Waterford Business Group are pleased with the increased levels of communication with Ballybricken.
But the level of Garda resources and additional support for the area officer clearly remains a pressing issues in the city centre.