Making the ordinary extraordinary in Balbriggan

Checkpoint ‘Briggan:
Garda Joe Callan, Sergeant Stephen McCabe and Garda Darren McGeever at a rural MIT checkpointLook this way:
Sergeants’ Darren Farrelly and Keith White at their desksSummonsed:
Garda Noel Campbell and Ms. Freda Smith of the Court Order Enforcement Unit in BalbrigganFleeced:
Garda Daryl Scanlon and Garda David Woods pose for a snapCustody Suite: Sergeant Keith White of Balbriggan Station The Boss: 
Superintendent Tony Twomey in his officeBalbriggan’s best: 
Garda Paul McCarthy,
Garda Ciarán McQuaid,
Garda Nikki McMorrow and Garda Rebecca O’Sullivan

Editor, John O’Keeffe went to visit Balbriggan Garda Station and met with the men and women of ‘the Regular’

There’s something about the word ‘regular’ that seems to send people into the land of nod. The Oxford Dictionary describes it as, “existing or happening repeatedly in a fixed pattern with equal or similar amounts of space or time between one or the next; something even.” See what I mean? I’ve already lost you. It seems a pity, therefore, that we employ this as the most commonly used term to describe perhaps up to 70% of the Force – ‘the Regular.’ A trip to Balbriggan Station will see you right however. Quite simply, there is nothing ordinary about ‘the Regular’ in this station.

But don’t take my word for it. You could for example spend some time with Garda Ciarán McQuaid and Garda Rebecca O’Sullivan, who are two Members that make up the beating heart of Balbriggan Station. Like so many of the Regular, they are at the beginning of their career. In recent years, the recruitment freeze has meant that those just out from Garda College (more so than ever before) have had to make intelligent and important decisions, on their feet, every day. Well, have no fear, McQuaid and O’Sullivan are here.

A little further up the tree in experience sits Garda Nikki McMorrow, who provides clear counsel to all. Then we come to Sergeant Darren Farrelly and Sergeant Keith White and a wiser pair of younger owls you might be hard pushed to find. Indeed, White could not have been more helpful to a confused Editor that day. He’s the man I want to see when the hatch flips open in any Public Office. Tough on crime; tough on the causes of crime.
But the Regular are, in fairness, only as good as he or she who leads them. In Balbriggan’s case, it is

Superintendent Tony Twomey, another Garda that manages, with some ease, to make yours truly, look like a lad who might need a set of Cuban heels. Tall of stature but also a big ideas man, Twomey has had a varied career to date, which has doubtless prepared him for his latest challenging role. During his time in his previous job in Blanchardstown, he trained as an Operational Commander and this involved him in the management and decision making in high-risk, volatile incidents across the DMR. In 2018 he was promoted to Superintendent and assigned to the Balbriggan District. The learning from his time spent working as Assistant Superintendent in Blanchardstown, has doubtless been invaluable in preparing him for the challenges of managing this busy District.

And he would need his wits about him. Size first; Balbriggan is the largest District in the DMR, taking a line from the Rogerstown Estuary, north of Donabate, across to Ashbourne, all of the area north of this line and inside the Meath/Dublin Boundary. The geographical area is a whopping 400sq/km. The District is mainly rural, but the towns of Balbriggan, Skerries, Lusk and Rush are the main urban areas. All have seen a huge increase in population over the last five years. The population of the Balbriggan District is in the region of 65,000, with the town described as the fastest growing, most diverse and with the largest youth population nationally. The Census of 2016 indicates the 28% of the population were born outside Ireland; this compares to a national average of 13%. In terms of age profile, 75% of the population are under 44 years of age.

All the Members in the station, of course, must deal with challenges that such a transitional and changing demographic may bring. I ask Twomey what are the particular challenges that Balbriggan presents? “The key challenge from a policing perspective is building trust with the diverse communities,” he says. “Strong links are therefore in place with local Pastors and the Balbriggan Integration Forum. In the area of youth, we have strong links with Foróige, Youth Reach and the Principals of local schools. There is a strong emphasis in the District of engaging positively with young people to break down barriers,” Supt. Twomey advises.

Of course, while each District presents its own unique demographic challenges, wherever you go, the Regular do their day to day work – much of which goes unnoticed. Enter stage left Sergeant Stephen McCabe, ably assisted by Garda Joe Callan and Garda Darren McGeever. On a bitterly cold December day, they introduced me to the chill wind of a rural MIT checkpoint. Indeed, at one point I was seriously thinking of going into Balbriggan to get myself a fur coat to go with those Cuban heels. And yes, gardaí smile at members of the public and even have a laugh as they stop them to do their usual checks. These checkpoints don’t just reassure the public that gardaí are enforcing the law – they are surely one important element in the huge public support that remains out there for Frontline gardaí.

Soon we were off to a domestic call, where a single mother had just been verbally abused and threatened with her young child by some locals, due to her boyfriend’s criminal record. This was a difficult one and I might have expected McCabe to simply take over. He was brilliant, however. He gave the space to the other two younger Gardaí Callan and McKeever, to engage and resolve the situation as best they could – without cutting across them. The Sergeant provided gentle nudges when required to his younger colleagues and indeed some final critical words of advice and encouragement for the young woman before we left. This was team policing at its best. A Sergeant on top of his game and his two younger colleagues with intuitive abilities – but who were also allowed to learn on their feet. Garda College would be proud.

Work on the street by gardaí, of whatever hue, must of course still be policy driven and focused. How Members engage with young people and identify opportunities to encourage pro-social activities in the area, has become a big drive for Balbriggan’s Superintendent. “To achieve our responsibility in this and as part of the training programme, Probationer Gardaí are given community projects which focus on young people. Earlier this year in conjunction with Foróige, we established an outreach initiative,” Twomey says. “This involves Foróige workers and gardaí in plainclothes on designated nights, going around to areas where young people hang out and encouraging them towards organised youth cafés and activities, such as the late night leagues,” he concludes.
And we should be in no doubt that Balbriggan is an area earmarked for considerable social and economic development in the next five to 10 years. ‘Our Balbriggan’ is an initiative by Fingal County Council for the development of the town and hinterland of Balbriggan. An investment fund of €20 million is ring-fenced by the Local Authority for this initiative. This initiative was very much a collaboration with local community and business to identify what was best for Balbriggan. Inspector Downey of Balbriggan, contributed significantly to this initiative and An Garda Síochána are an important stakeholder in the implementation of the plan and making Balbriggan an attractive place to live, work and visit.

As I came to the end of my time with the good folk of Balbriggan Garda Station, I popped my head in to say goodbye to the Court Order Enforcement Unit where Garda Noel Campbell and Ms. Freda Smith reside. The welcome could not have been warmer, the professional manners, more civil. Here were two people, who between them, have perhaps 60 years of service as garda and garda staff, and yet they exhibit the same enthusiasm as doubtless they did when they first began their careers.

On my way out, I asked Twomey if he could wave a practical magic wand, what two things would he wish for, for Balbriggan? He was unequivocal. “I place a huge emphasis on mountain bike patrols because of the visibility and connection with the community. In addressing problems of anti-social behaviour their impact is significant. The magic wand would allow me to ensure that all probationers were trained and equipped for these bike patrols,” he said. Furthermore, “I would also wave that wand over the Station building and modernise it to accommodate the resources currently located here and to meet the needs of the community.” A man at the top, but with his eyes firmly on the level.

My day with the Regular and others in Balbriggan was where I saw the ordinary become extraordinary. Everyday tasks done magnificently well by a group of men and women who sometimes get lost in the media clamour to bash those who go towards danger – so that the rest of us can walk away.

But we, the public, will not forget. Thank you to the Regular – and thank you Balbriggan.

For full and in-depth coverage, see the current printed edition of Garda Review.

subscribe button