Figures for street violence in Cork are up but locals say they don’t tell full story

‘Covid skewed the figures, it will probably take three years to get a truer picture’

It's just gone midnight on Friday and the streets of Cork are still buzzing as people spill out of pubs and make their way to the nightclubs scattered around the city centre

But as Leeside continues on its post-Covid return to something like normality, just how safe are these streets for its residents?

There has already been a number of shocking assaults in Cork city centre – all occurring during the afternoon – adding to the sense that perhaps the city is not a safe place for locals or visitors even during daylight hours.

In January, a man in his 30s was assaulted outside Phelan's Pharmacy on Patrick St, leaving a trail of blood in his wake following the afternoon attack; while one evening in March, a man had his face slashed on the boardwalk at the junction of Grand Parade and South Mall.

And just last Thursday night on MacCurtain St, a man in his 30s suffered injuries to his face and body when he was knocked to the ground and kicked by up to six people in an attack that later went viral prompting much debate on local radio in Cork.

According to one Garda source, the three particularly violent and vicious assaults were perpetrated by those with drink and drug addictions on fellow addicts sleeping rough on the streets.

Figures presented at a Joint Policing Committee meeting earlier this month revealed that the number of assaults committed in the Cork City Division, which includes satellite towns such as Carrigaline and Monkstown, was noticeably up.

According to the figures there were 47 cases of assault causing harm in the first four months of 2021 when Cork, like the rest of the country, was working its way through various phases of lockdown. This figure doubled in January-April this year when they were 98 such incidents.

Chief Supt Tom Myers, who heads up the Cork City Garda Division, acknowledges the figures for assault for the first four months of the year would suggest a dramatic increase in street violence, but he's not sure that is necessarily the case when Covid is factored in.

“Yes, the figures for assault causing harm are up this year but they are coming from a low figure for last year which wasn’t typical; Covid has really skewed the figures because the night-time economy was in lockdown for so much of last year, it will probably take three years to get a truer picture.”

The view of those regularly out on the streets at night varies.

As they are packing up for the night around 10.30pm from their stand outside Brown Thomas on Patrick St, volunteers with the Hope for the Homeless charity Paschal Coffey, Catherine Correa and Gillian Twomey say they have seen little evidence of violence on the streets.

Coffey says: “We come out every second Friday with hot food and clothing and sleeping bags for about 30 or 40 men and women. We’ve been doing it for about five years, and I can honestly say in that time, we’ve only had to call the guards twice, at most three times to report an incident.”

Taxi driver Nick Murphy, waiting on the rank on the Grand Parade a few minutes past midnight, paints a similar picture of a generally quiet city and certainly one that is much improved in terms of antisocial behaviour now compared with what he believes prevailed a decade or even a year ago.

“I thought it was worse during lockdown; there were less people about and more people with maybe drink and drug issues or at least they were more visible, plus you had more young gangs about, young fellows chasing each other and getting into scraps, it would get hairy at times.”

Vigilance is essential for security staff at nightclubs and Fraser Sim, keeping an eye on proceedings outside the Voodoo Rooms on Oliver Plunkett St, agrees with Murphy that things have improved, though with the caveat that things can kick off in a flash.

“I’m doing this almost 20 years, and things have got better over the years in Cork city, it’s a more mixed, diverse crowd and the venues have changed; security staff are better trained and have body cams and there are more guards on the street, though they have their busy nights too.”

One man who has plenty of experience of dealing with the fall-out from late-night assaults is Dr Chris Luke. Now retired after years working in the emergency departments at both the Mercy and Cork University Hospital, he continues to follow events closely and offers some interesting insights.

“There are probably three categories of people we see: first, the homeless population who have very considerable drink and drug issues and many of them are frightened to stay in the hostels because of the behaviour of the drug addled and drug addicted with huge levels of intimidation and volatility.”

The second group he identifies are gangs of teenagers who wander the streets between midnight and 3.30am, randomly attacking anyone they encounter, mugging them and robbing them if they can but sometimes attacking them simply for the fun of it.

The third group involved in street violence, according to Dr Luke, are “ordinary punters who just go over the edge on either alcohol or cocaine” and they tend to be older but capable of being just as violent.

“I don’t see an immediate surge in assaults at the moment post-Covid, but I do anticipate a steady rise because there is a pent-up desire to get out,” he adds.

Another garda, familiar with what is happening on the streets, agrees with Dr Luke’s assessment, certainly in terms of the violence being perpetrated by those with addiction issues which he says is very much confined to others similarly afflicted and living rough on the streets.

He echoes Dr Luke’s observation about roaming gangs of youth preying on those out late.

“Ultimately, it’s down to resources; if you have enough guards on the street, people will behave if they see the yellow jackets but of course there’s also a seasonal element as well, in summer with good weather, you will see an increase in public order offences as young fellows start drinking earlier.”

Chief Supt Myers declines to say how many gardaí are rostered in the city centre at weekends for operational reasons but says there are sufficient numbers with public order units on standby, while the new hub policing model means extra gardaí can be drafted in from the suburbs at short notice.

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