So brazen was one instance of theft in Castlebar over the Christmas that a catalytic converter worth €1,500 was taken from underneath a jeep parked in a secure council yard. The owner of the vehicle was a council employee who was on an emergency call after a wall collapsed at Springfield Court in Castlebar. He parked his jeep in the council’s yard at Moneen while he went in a council vehicle to the emergency. When he returned less than one hour later, he found the converter had been stolen.
That was but one of the many incidents of theft and crime over the past number of weeks revealed by town councillors at the January meeting of Castlebar Town Council. The council suspended normal business to have a discussion on the issue after Cllr Frank Durcan (Independent) requested a debate on the matter.
Cllr Durcan said that in recent weeks there were ‘one or two’ burglaries a day in the town and said a shop and a hair salon across from his business and a house across from his own house had all been hit.
He also told the harrowing story of how a widow who was visiting her husband’s grave in Castlebar had her car broken into and €500 taken from the car.
Cllr Harry Barrett (Labour) told of how a woman was assaulted outside Tesco in Castlebar as she attempted to battle with muggers trying to steal her handbag. He said it would have been much worse had a passer-by not come to her aid. He also told how a man returned to his bread van outside Dunnes Stores to find all his money taken while several councillors referred to how a businesswoman in Breaffy, Regina Sweeney, was assaulted by burglars last month.
Cllr Blackie Gavin (Fianna Fáil) said that ‘people are living in fear’ and that houses were being ransacked for jewellery and money and the perpetrators were in and out in five minutes. He revealed that he had given his phone number to neighbours of his to ring him if they feel threatened or are worried at night.
Calls for ‘old-fashioned policing’
Every councillor said that urgent action is needed to address the problem but they were at odds over what to do. Cllr Durcan argued for more CCTV cameras but Cllr Barrett said that, even now, the camera room in Castlebar Garda Station looked like the bridge in Star Trek. He said there was a need for a return to ‘old fashioned, visible policing’ with Gardaí having a presence on the streets and around the town.
He cited how retired Garda Donal Fitzmaurice was a man so many people said was a great example of a proper Garda presence on the street. Cllr Durcan said Mr Fitzmaurice was ‘as good as ten’ gardaí.
Cllr Durcan also said there needed to be a greater deterrent.
“When people are sent to jail they shouldn’t be put in luxury cells in Castlerea. I’d suggest a return to the chain gang. If they’re drawing the dole, they shouldn’t be entitled to receive it for a time after their released. Often criminals are sent to Castlerea and are home in Castlebar before the Garda car that brought them up there,” he said.
Cllr Ger Deere (Fine Gael) said the Legal Aid system is ‘an absolute joke’ and said it needed serious reform and also argued that serial offenders should have their dole cut.
Cllr Gavin said that a big part of the problem was that criminals were coming from outside the county and acting on local knowledge.
“People are watching houses in this town and they know what time you leave and what time you come home. Gangs coming from 150 miles away are being tipped off by these people,” he said.
Lack of Garda resources was identified as a major problem and the matter will be discussed further at a Joint Policing Committee meeting in Castlebar on January 21 next.
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