I Just Want to Dance with You…

Sergeant Paul Forrestal and Garda Emmet Brady in the CoLab Garda Training hub at the Letterkenny Institute of Technology. They are hugely informed and enthusiastic about their work in CoLabInspector Shaun Grant at Letterkenny Garda Station's police memorabilia cabinet and Inspector Michael Harrison (right) in his officeD/Garda Gráinne McLoone and D/Garda Barry Carey. These guys know the border roads like the back of their handsGarda Matthew Lenehan and Garda Alan O’Hanlon. Exactly the type of young Frontline gardaí you would want calling to you in a crisis

John O’Keeffe visited Letterkenny Garda Station and met a group of men and women for whom Daniel O’Donnell should usefully write a song

Letterkenny is the type of town that surely we would all like to live in if we knew it properly. Small enough to care but big enough to cope, it exudes all the muscular confidence of a Millwall Football supporter but with the caring caresses of Daniel O’Donnell’s Whatever Happened to Old Fashioned Love. Letterkenny Garda Station is no exception and during my visit I met a Frontline who might well operate as a template for many around the country.

Headed up by Superintendent Michael Finan since 2013, the town of Letterkenny has a population of around 22,000, with the broader District at 56,000 – compromising some eight garda stations. The entire District trails along 90km of border between it and Northern Ireland, while Letterkenny Institute of Technology boasts some 4,000 students.

You can guess the specific policing challenges already. Sharing a border with the City of Derry, “poses possibly the biggest challenge and were it not for the great co-operation with the PSNI, the investigation of some crime would be very difficult,” says Inspector Michael Harrison – one of three Inspectors in the station. Inspector Harrison has another hugely important job in a border county such as Donegal, as Roads Policing Inspector for the whole Division, where he says that drink and drug driving is, “increasing at a dramatic rate and this is a worry.”
Letterkenny Station has a compliment of some 139 Frontline gardaí between gardaí and their colleagues in the Detective Unit. On my visit I had the pleasure (courtesy of Inspector Shaun Grant) of going on patrol with Gardaí Matthew Lenehan and Alan O’Hanlon. Strong of fetlock and bold of purpose, these are exactly – yes exactly – the type of young Frontline gardaí you would want calling to you in a crisis. Not long out of Garda College, they boast the quiet confidence of those who are carved for higher office in due course.

Their plain clothes colleagues I met were little different. D/Garda Gráinne McLoone and D/Garda Bobby Carey were like a pair of Garda Gazelles as we sneaked our way along the winding border roads. These guys know what their “clients” have had for breakfast with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the area and its offending denizens. Letterkenny criminals beware – you can run but you can’t hide from McLoone and Carey.

But there is more of course to Letterkenny Garda Station than public order, burglaries, speeding and border issues. Finan advises that they currently have a dedicated Community Policing Unit who liaise with elderly and/or vulnerable people in the District – critical in the Covid-19 times in which we live. Additionally, they have a dedicated Sexual Assault Investigation Unit. To support this unit, they hold quarterly meetings with stakeholders in the community, “to ensure the service we provide is always relevant,” says Finan.

It is, however, the ongoing educational facilities in Letterkenny that also seriously impress. Headed up by Sergeant Paul Forrestal, CoLab, is part of the campus of Letterkenny Institute of Technology. Sergeant Forrestal and his colleague Garda Emmet Brady whom I met on the day, were about as enthusiastic and informed as they could be about their work as was possible. Two gardaí who love their work and are excellent communicators? Tick box. (Two further members of staff include Garda Donna Campbell and CO Charlie Meehan).

The facilities they have here are exceptional from a training and educational point of view, with a large classroom and a full training computer suite with 12 computers for IT training. With full access to a lecture theatre and large conference room as well as full canteen facilities, you can see why this is an ideal regional educational hub for gardaí.

CoLab engage with outside agencies in providing training, such as Domestic Abuse Groups, TUSLA and the HSE and this has worked very well. The workload they have there appears vast in terms of training the current Probationers to the required standards to achieve their BA in Applied Policing, while at the same time trying to roll-out aspects of the Modernisation Programme and essential CPD training.

Forrestal believes that, “there are real training challenges ahead of us but I believe that we as a team here are up to these challenges. I believe the model we have here in terms of training is one which could be taken on by other Divisions. If anyone would like to get in touch please feel free to do so and email us at Donegal.cpd@garda.ie.” I told you they were enthusiastic.

“Members in the Letterkenny District should be very proud of the impressive work that all members carry out on a daily basis,” Finan says. “They continue to give their best in everything they do and it is very much appreciated – especially when it is understood that the workload in this District is much higher than a lot of other rural Districts,” he concludes.

Hear, hear. Daniel would surely agree. He may even feel a song coming on, dedicated to the Letterkenny Frontline…

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

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