Garda chief doesn’t have the resources to tackle open-air drinking

Enjoying the sunshine at Spanish Arch.

Galway’s Garda Chief has said the sustainability of increased checks for public drinking in the Spanish Arch is under threat due to a lack of resources and a cut in the availability of overtime hours.

Speaking to a meeting of the Galway City Joint Policing Committee (JPC), Chief Superintendent Tom Curley of the Galway Garda Division said that he was unsure if the current increase in patrols was sustainable.

Since a clampdown on ‘bushing’ in the Spanish Arch began this season, Gardaí have issued 60 fines – with those caught slapped with a €100 fine.

However, Chief Supt Curley said that their increased patrols had been a costly exercise with the already overstretched Galway Division having to fork out close to €15,000 in overtime since March of this year.

“As we go forward, it is going to be difficult for me to sustain that costing as I try to prioritise policing issues – as of late last week, our overtime budget has been cut.

“There has been a reduction of 30 per cent in our overtime budget.

“I have limited resources and I have to police the whole city and county,” he said.

He added that this was not a one-person job and it required a Sergeant and four to five Gardaí to carry out the checks.

Chief Supt Curley said that public drinking increased the risk of accidental drowning and called for the recommendations in the recent audit of Galway’s waterways to be implemented.

As revealed by the Galway City Tribune earlier this month, the report claims erecting physical barriers in areas like the Spanish Arch could prevent accidental drowning – a measure that Chief Supt Curley said he has been in favour of for years.

“When I was Superintendent here in 2010, we raised that railings could be put up to stop revellers straying into the river.

“The response was that railings would damage the natural beauty of the area, but I would rather save one life at the cost of natural beauty – the Spanish Arch is a tragedy waiting to happen,” he said.

Senior Executive Officer at Galway City Council, Gary McMahon, said that the officials in City Hall are currently considering the report.

“I will acknowledge that it is a possible accident waiting to happen.

“When there is an organised event, measures are put in place but it is impromptu events when the sun comes out that issues arise,” he said.

Galway City Councillor, Niall McNelis, said that signage that has been erected is failing to inform people of the illegality of public drinking.

“The signage Galway City Council has put up is useless. There have been 60 fines issued by the Gardaí but no fines by the community wardens – the community wardens are non-existent in public areas.

“All that is needed is an icon of a bottle with a line going through it and a €100 fine,” said Cllr McNelis.

Chief Supt Curley agreed that the signage is not working and that more will be needed to combat the problem.

“We have written to the City Council in relation to more signage because a lot of tourists were unaware that they couldn’t drink down there,” he said.

Mr McMahon told the JPC that the problem of poor signage will be examined by the local authority.

“The issue in relation to signage – the joint City Council and Garda signs – we’ll have a look at that.

“I commend the Gardaí for the work they are doing in the Spanish Arch and Basin area. A lot of people weren’t aware that they weren’t allowed to drink a bag of cans in the Spanish Arch,” said Mr McMahon.