The attack on 26-year-old Mark Sheehan on a Dublin bus in the early hours of last Sunday prompted renewed calls for a special transport section in An Garda Síochána or even a new transport-police unit. Sheehan, who is gay, said he and his friends were subjected to homophobic abuse by a group before he was headbutted in the face near Templeogue at about 4am. He published a horrifying photograph of his injuries, including a gash across his nose, on social media.
The National Bus and Rail Union said the travelling public “urgently needs” a permanent and dedicated Garda public transport unit to combat such violence. Sinn Féin’s spokesman on justice, Martin Kenny, echoed those calls. However, Government politicians said any such decision was a matter for Garda Commissioner Drew Harris. The Garda has said it has no plans for the creation of such a unit. Nevertheless, it has decided to locate part of its Dublin control room in Heuston station, allowing a quicker response to violence on public transport.
The National Transport Authority (NTA) does not believe a dedicated transport policing unit is required. It said that while attacks occurred from time to time, research shows passengers overwhelmingly felt safe when using public transport. The vast majority of journeys, it said, were completed without incident.
People are entitled to feel safe on public transport, and appalling attacks such as that of last Sunday cannot be tolerated. There is clearly a problem to be addressed. In analysing how to make public transport safer, however, the first step must be the gathering of higher quality information. Much greater effort should be made to compile dedicated public transport crime data. It could capture the extent of the problem and its patterns, while indicating whether it is worsening. Such information, collated consistently and published regularly, perhaps by the Central Statistics Office, would facilitate a much more informed debate and could provide the basis for a new policing approach, if that is required.