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Garda chief defends checkpoints increase

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‘We have a job to do. It’s road safety’ – Chief Supt  Pat Diskin

Edwin McGreal

Mayo’s garda chief has defended the increased number of Garda checkpoints in the county in recent months.
The increase came in for sustained criticism by members of Mayo’s Joint-Policing Committee meeting last Friday in Castlebar, with one councillor claiming that people ‘are prisoners in their own homes’, as they are living in fear of being stopped while driving and breathalysed at a checkpoint.
A heated debate on the subject lasted over an hour, with much of the discussion focused on the new drink-driving penalties, which came into force last October, and the subsequent amping up of Garda enforcement.
Responding, Chief Supt Pat Diskin said that An Garda Síochána has a responsibility towards road safety, adding that patrols and checkpoints in rural areas cover ‘the whole spectrum’ of crime prevention.
“I appreciate there has been an increase in the number of checkpoints. That could well be because I appointed one sergeant and 12 gardaí in 2018 to the Road Traffic Unit because that unit had been completely depleted over a number of years, because of a number of measures. You might say why did I do it?
“There are a number of reasons. Last year we had nine people killed on our roads in Mayo. In 2017, we had 13 people killed on the roads. That’s a shocking number. There were times we had it as low as four and times it was as high as 16 people killed on our road … I’m tasked – as are all the superintendents in Mayo – with making the roads safer.
“You have your lifesaver vans and then you have ourselves with checkpoints at various times of day and night. We don’t want to prevent people from moving out from their homes. We’d always encourage it. But we have a job to do. It’s road safety,” said Chief Supt Diskin.
While critical of increased checkpoints, Cllr Damien Ryan (Fianna Fáil) said the greater presence of Garda cars in rural areas ‘has completely eliminated break-ins’.
Chief Supt Diskin took up that point, arguing this was an important part of An Garda Síochána’s role in rural areas.
“And just because a patrol car is parked by the road policing unit doesn’t mean that (road policing) is their job exclusively. It is not. They are involved in crime prevention. I gave a commitment to the elderly that we would increase visibility to reassure them in their local communities that they are safe in their homes.  
“A lot of people complained to me that they never saw a garda in their local village, and I gave a commitment a long time ago that we would increase visibility, that we would go out to areas where you don’t normally see garda cars. That’s kind of a double-edged sword. We’re doing checkpoints and we’re not necessarily waiting for people to come around the road drunk. We are looking at the whole [crime] spectrum.”
Referring to the rate of rural break-ins, Chief Supt Diskin said that is ‘absolutely convinced’ that such crimes have reduced ‘because of the higher number of checkpoints, the higher visibility’. “We’re trying create higher visibility to send a message to the criminals that we are out and about and not taking any nonsense,” he said.
“It is unfortunate that people feel we are out to get them and out to do them for drink driving because that is one element of road safety, and despite all the checkpoints, drink-driving detections last year were down 9 percent.
“I’m not so sure I have the answer [to people being afraid to drive]. I want to encourage people to come out, absolutely. I don’t think it is a Garda problem only. We’re tasked with enforcing the legislation,” he concluded.
Before the new legislation, a driver detected with a blood alcohol concentration of between 50 and 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood was given a €200 fine and three penalty points. Since October 26, such a driver will be disqualified from driving for three months. The limit is lower for learner drivers and professional drivers, at a blood alcohol level of 20mg.