New transport police unit may be created to tackle rising violence
Government is considering the move amid surge in public order incidents on trains
The Government is considering establishing a dedicated policing unit for public transport to address concerns of antisocial behaviour.
Officials in the Department of Justice and the Department of Transport are examining ways of improving passenger experiences on public transport following recent increases in violence and public order incidents on trains.
Gardaí dealt with 43 allegations of assault on trains last year, up from nine in 2016. In the first five months of this year there have been 26 assaults.
Robberies have also increased from three last year to 10 in the first five months of this year.
Passengers made 407 complaints to Irish Rail of antisocial behaviour last year, up from 246 the year before. Incidents of intimidation almost doubled to 117, while vandalism complaints more than tripled to 70.
An Irish Rail spokeswoman said the situation appears to be worsening: “While the overwhelming majority of our 45.5 million annual journeys occur without incident, both employee reports and customer feedback do confirm that there has been an increase in the number of antisocial behaviour incidents over the past 18 months.”
The company set out several measures it is taking to address the problem, including ensuring “a strong liaison and effective response to issues from the gardaí”.
It said: “The structuring of these resources including the possibility of a dedicated Garda unit is being assessed we understand.”
Irish Rail said: “The Department of Transport in the first instance is engaging with Department of Justice and gardaí on the issue in the wider context of public transport.”
The Garda did not respond to questions about a potential transport unit but said it “regularly provides stakeholders, including transport providers, with Garda support”.
“Other support includes a Garda presence on trains and trams to and from concert venues to prevent public order and crime. Where transport providers identify trends in antisocial behaviour, An Garda Síochána will arrange for an ongoing presence until such activity is resolved.”
A spokesman for the Department of Justice said it had received correspondence from the Minister for Transport which was under consideration. “It has been sent to An Garda Síochána for their views, given that the allocation of all Garda resources, including the manner in which Garda personnel are deployed, is solely a decision for the Garda Commissioner and his management team,” he said.
Currently Irish Rail and Transdev, which operates the Luas, contract private security companies to provide security on-board and at stations. It is understood Irish Rail spends more than €3 million a year on security costs.
One potential option for a dedicated policing unit is the creation of a specialist unit with An Garda Síochána, similar to the traffic corp but on a smaller scale. It would have the power to deal with incidents on board as well as other transport-related offences such as the theft of rail equipment and ticket fraud.
An alternative is the establishment of a separate police force similar to the Airport Police operating in Dublin and Cork. These specialist officers have full police powers within the State’s airports but not outside them. Similar forces are deployed on public transport in the UK, France and US.
There have been repeated calls over the years for a dedicated policing unit for public transport. Earlier this year the National Bus and Rail Union said the Garda should establish a transport unit to police trains.
“I know there will be issues around funding, as there always is when you talk about extra services,” said NBRU general secretary Dermot O’Leary.