Galway third highest on public order offence list

Fri, Aug 24, 2012, 01:00

Geography, emigration, drug and alcohol consumption, and reduced Garda resources all play a part in the number of recorded public order offences, writes CONOR LALLY, Crime Correspondent

ON QUAY Street in Galway city at the height of summer, there is little evidence that the recession has battered people’s disposable incomes or that the tourism sector is struggling.

The pubs are full to overflowing on a recent warm August Saturday night, and people are spilling on to the streets to enjoy their drinks. Tourists mingle with locals and the droves of hen and stag parties that have descended on the packed pubs.

Gardaí patrol the narrow city streets on foot and in Garda vans and cars.

Most pubs have hired security staff, manning the doorways to check who’s coming and going. The bouncers are watching to ensure people taking drinks outside have availed of the offer of a plastic glass from the bar.

Groups of younger men and women have clearly been on the go since earlier in the day, with more than a couple of drinkers the worse for wear by early in the evening.

But, overwhelmingly, the atmosphere is jovial, with little to indicate that Galway has one of the biggest public order crime rates in the State.

Crime figures broken down to Garda station level by the Central Statistics Office and the All-Island Research Institute at NUI, Maynooth, show that Galway recorded 4,363 criminal offences last year, making it the seventh busiest station nationwide in terms of recorded crime.

The figures do not offer a per capita breakdown.

Given the large size of the area policed by Galway, not to mention its city centre nature, it is perhaps not surprising that the main Garda station in the west is in the top 10 busiest in the State.

Of the total crimes recorded last year in Galway, 1,559 were classified as public order offences. That figure puts Galway third on the public order list, behind only the Dublin inner Garda stations of Pearse Street (2,237 public order offences) and Store Street (1,654), both of which police the busiest retail and nightlife districts in the State.

Nationally, public order crimes have fallen by 21 per cent since a peak of 61,822 offences in 2008. Assaults have fallen by 12 per cent since peaking in 2008, while criminal damage has tumbled by 21 per cent.

In Galway, some 36 per cent of all offences recorded last year were public order offences.

Gardaí say that part of the reason Galway records more public order offences than most other parts of the country is that the compact nature of the city centre means it is relatively easy to police for public order offences.

“The city itself is compact and it means you can cover a lot of it very well with a relatively small number [of gardaí],” said one senior source.

“I think in Galway a lot of the public order issues that happen come to our attention, but in other parts of the country that are harder to police more things would happen under the radar so they wouldn’t be in the crime figures.”

Other Garda sources and experts on crime point to the fact that the rate of public order crimes recorded by gardaí depends heavily on the extent to which gardaí prioritise the issue in local policing plans.

As one garda says: “If I’m in the square in Thurles and two guys have a fight and I arrest them, then that’s two crimes recorded. If I’m not there then I don’t make the arrests and that fight never happened.”

A reduction of two-thirds in the Garda’s overtime budget – from €155.5 million in 2007 to €54 million in the current year – and a drop in Garda numbers from 14,400 in early 2010 to 13,567 as of June 30th suggests there are fewer gardaí “in the square in Thurles” and that more public order crime is going undetected.

Demographics and emigration are also playing a part.

With young men the most likely group to become involved in public order offences, it seems certain that the reduction of 15 per cent in the male population aged 16-30 reflected in the latest census is feeding into the reduction in public order offences.

However, every Garda source who spoke to The Irish Times on the issue cited the same two factors as main drivers of public order crime: drink and drugs.

With the recession affecting young people’s budgets for socialising, drug crime has fallen 23 per cent since its peak in 2008. And the specific offence of possessing drugs for personal use has declined by 30 per cent in the same period.

According to figures compiled by the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland, the consumption of alcohol has also fallen: from 14.4 litres per adult per year in 2001 to 13.5 by 2005 and 12 litres last year.

Says one Garda source: “There are definitely fewer people absolutely out of their brains and not knowing what they’re doing.”