Today’s storm is tomorrow’s gentle breeze

Dublin North Central has a reputation for being the epicentre of the country’s drug problem. However, when John O’Keeffe met the gardaí who work the Frontline there, he discovered a much richer tapestry

By John O’Keeffe

Let us leave drugs issues aside for one moment when talking about DMR North Central Division of An Garda Síochána. Firstly, this place is busy – very busy. In fact, it is one of the busiest divisions in the Republic of Ireland, serving a catchment area that includes a broad mix of activity from major retail, commercial, public administration and defence, to residential. That is a lot of souls to protect – 86,664 to be precise.

Superintendent Gerry Murphy and Inspector Tim Burke are keen to stress the huge sweep of business types their men and women seek to protect. “The largest commercial employer in the area is the Irish Financial Services Centre; this is the fourth largest funds centre in Europe and employed approximately 25,000 persons at its optimum. The second largest commercial employer is retail,” they continue, “and we watch over approximately 4,000 shops and 10 departments stores/shopping centres in the city centre providing 4.5 million square feet of retail space.” They are not wrong. The average daily level of flow of people across the city centre is touching half a million, with a large percentage of these being tourists. This division has it all – and then some.

And yes, drug gangs, are a major issue for this division. In Store Street, teams like Sergeant Ciaran Whelan and Garda Tom Powell fight what seems like an unending war against drugs on our streets – as I found out recently when I went out with them.

Further North sits Mountjoy Garda Station, home to Detective Garda Niall Hodgins and Garda Ronan Hobbs. A day with Hodgins and Hobbs is like no other and the variety of work undertaken by them is truly jaw-dropping. On the day shift when I accompanied them, they answered a call from a garda in distress; spoke to mother of a man wanted in connection with two murders; staked out known drug houses and investigated an allegation of inappropriate images found on a business computer – not to mention courtesy stops at Croke Park before the Rolling Stones concert and the Princess Cruise Ship in Dublin Port.

As we patrolled the streets, Hodgins advised me that he had no doubt what his proudest moments in the Force were – and continue to be. “Being privileged to be trusted with the responsibility of countless investigations into the most heinous of crimes in the State – namely murder,” he says.

But the career of a garda is a varied one and he remembers a particularly happy time when he was a unit biker when motorcyclists were attached to each working regular unit. His saddest moment, however, he says was, “learning of and subsequently participating in the funeral march and burial on the death of my dear friend Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe. We knew each other before we ever joined the Force.”

In keeping, however, with the recent results of the PwC Cultural Audit across the Force, Hobbs and Hodgins believe that, “red tape and bureaucracy of a number of systems and protocols that have been put in place, merely result in a culture of box ticking.” It’s clear that these two gardaí are something more than box tickers – at the risk of embarrassing them, they and their colleagues are the beating heart of the Frontline.

Further West in the division sits the Bridewell Station, in the heart of the legal community where plans are afoot for a new station on its historic site.

Again, this is a station that is often associated with its work on tackling the inner-city drugs issue, yet perhaps less, for the sterling work that is done there on community policing. In the light of this, it is unsurprising that the station has a reputation for being a country station within a city.

Back up in Store Street, the variety of work involving the Frontline is obvious – especially, once more, when it comes to community policing. “The model of community policing we use is called the ‘Small Area Policing’ (SAPs),” Inspector Burke advises, “where each street within each district has been divided up through a set of predetermined criteria (demographic, socioeconomic, etc.) and then allocated to an individual garda who takes responsibility for that area.” He soon dissuades me of any notion that community policing is just happy-clappy optics. “The community policing model works across all operational areas of policing including specialised units such as the drugs units and detective units,” he says.

Whether fighting the drugs war or community policing by consent in DMR North Central, perhaps we should leave the final thought on the rollercoaster that is police service to Detective Garda Niall Hodgins. “My lasting memory is that no matter what happens in the Force, today’s storm is tomorrow’s gentle breeze,” he muses. 

Never a truer word.

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

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