Community Alert groups across Waterford are striving to prevent crime in their local areas. DFBA (Dunhill, Fenor, Boatstrand, Annestown) Community Alert Group held its AGM last week.
COMMUNITY Alert groups perform an important role throughout Ireland including here in Waterford and the surrounding areas.There has been a noticeable increase in the activities of Community Alert groups in recent years, much of which is in response to growing concerns over crime in rural areas.Community Alert is a community safety programme for rural areas with an emphasis on older and vulnerable people.It operates as a partnership between the community, An Garda Síochána and Muintir na Tíre and works on the principle of shared responsibility for crime prevention and reduction.
The aims of the Community Alert Programme are: to foster the process of community development; to reduce opportunities for crimes to occur; to unite communities in a spirit of neighbourliness and community service; to devise programmes to improve the quality of life for all in rural communities.
Text Alert is being used to great effect in communities across the country and is certainly one of the strengths of Dunhill, Fenor, Boatstrand, Annestown (DFBA) Community Alert Group.
An Garda Síochána provides information by text to each registered community contact and they, in turn, forward the information by text to all members of their group.
DFBA Community Alert hosted it AGM in the impressive surroundings of the recently refurbished Dunhill Community Hall on Tuesday last February 11th.
A range of issues were discussed, including the ongoing success of the group’s Text Alert system.
Guest speaker John Lonergan attracted a large crowd and provided a riveting and thought-provoking speech. He praised the local community and paid tribute to its many achievements, including the impressive refurbished of the village hall. He highlighted the strength of rural communities such as Dunhill and spoke of the importance of community collaboration and interaction with each other.
Having an “identity” within a small local area is an important asset to have, he pointed out.
In particular, he said nurturing young people within each community is hugely important.
He spoke of the importance of speaking with youths in order to highlight the impact which decision making creates. The ripple effect of one wrong decision can lead to a series of more serious wrong decisions in later life. He highlighted the pressures which young people currently face (including from social media) and said they should always be congratulated on making “a right decision”.
He spoke about the criminals he encountered during his time as Governor of Mountjoy Prison.
Many had made a series of “wrong decisions” and did not have support networks around them.
Community Alert groups enjoy a close working relationship with An Garda Síochána and this relationship was evident at last week’s meeting of the DFBA group.Sgt Alan Kissane (Kilmacthomas) has worked closely with groups throughout Mid County Waterford in recent years.His successor, Sgt Deirdre O’Neill, has continued this relationship.
She praised the Community Alert groups which are operating within the Comeragh area which, she said, are very successful. “Sometimes groups can rise up and then fall away but, in this area, the groups have kept going,” she explained.
Sgt O’Neill believes it’s important that such groups continue to “evolve” by inviting different guest speakers to meetings and by providing a social outlet for local communities.
She says Community Alert meetings also have benefits for Gardaí. “One of the complaints we get in An Garda Síochána is that people don’t know us,” she said.“These meetings are a good way of meeting new people in the community and reaching a broader range of people to ensure they are signed up to Text Alert.” In particular, she says the Text Alert system provides “peace of mind”.
“On social media there can be a lot of unsubstantiated stuff. If you get a Text Alert you know it’s validated and that we are looking for information. We’re asking people to be aware of an incident instead of scaremongering and throwing too much information at people.”
Donal Murphy is Chair of the DFBA group and is joined on the committee by John Galloway (Secretary/Treasurer) and David Foran (committee member). Donal has regularly called for greater supports for Community Alert groups in Waterford and nationwide and this was reiterated at last week’s meeting. Currently, groups receive a payment from Muintir na Tíre and also receive funding through community grants from their respective local authority.
However, Donal is disappointed that the grants from Waterford City & County Council have declined. He pointed out that local groups have written to Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan within the last few years but have not been successful in securing a meeting.
Newly elected TD Matt Shanahan, who was in attendance at the AGM and was congratulated on his election success, was asked to raise this issue with the new government and to highlight the important role played by Community Alert groups. The success of the DFBA group can be seen in the fact that 200 people are now affiliated to the Text Alert system. Membership is just €5 per year. The frequency of texts has decreased, which Donal says is a sign that the system is helping to prevent crime in the local area. The group also actively promotes the use of pendant alarms for older people which are available free for the first year.
Donal says they work very well with other local groups, especially the neighbouring High Road/Ballyduff Community Alert Group which is also very successful. He believes inviting guest speakers adds another dimension to each meeting and helps to create a social and community event.
The building in which last week’s AGM was held began life as the local school and schoolmaster’s cottage in 1843, remaining as the school until 1948 when the new school was built next door.It then became a focal point for many social events and a very active Dunhill Players amateur drama group, with a high-point being a production of ‘Many Young Men of Twenty’ attended by the former US First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in the mid-1960s.
It returned to its origins as a site of learning in the 1980s when growing student numbers in the school next door necessitated its use.
It was also the first home of Tiny Tots Playschool in the late 1980s/1990s, the Dunhill branch of Tramore Credit Union, and was also the location for the first meetings of DFBA Community Enterprises. It fell into disrepair in the early 2000s and was derelict in the centre of the village since it was closed on health and safety grounds in 2009.In 2012, a community group came together under the banner of DFBA Enterprises Ltd. to renovate the building and bring it back to life.
With the help of Tony Hennessey and Pat Halley Architects, a design that was sympathetic to the origins of the building was conceived and agreed with the community.
Fundraising for the project commenced in 2013 and the project was successful in securing the maximum grant of €200,000 from Waterford Leader Partnership – Rural Development Programme in 2017.The afternoon of Sunday 30th December 2018 was a momentous occasion in Dunhill as the doors of the Halla Pobail or Community Hall were reopened to the public after nine years.
With such an impressive building, and such a hardworking and dedicated Community Alert group, the achievements of Dunhill and the surrounding areas are certainly an example to all.