Point in Time: A new home for the force
By Stephen Leonard
STANDING alone and impressively amid clear green fields just off the Belgard Road, there was little to impede sight of the new home for Tallaght gardai as it bustled into life in 1987.
By the dawn of that decade and even before, it had been clear to all that the small country house located in the old village could no longer cut it as the headquarters of policing for a burgeoning Dublin satellite town that was amassing a population more akin to a city.
And while Tallaght’s populace increased exponentially in the wake of the Myles Wright Regional Plan for Dublin in the 1960s, the basic amenities that should have accompanied such rapid growth were terribly slow in coming.
Add to that, the economic recession of the 1980s and a number of questionable political policies that had profound demographical affects on the area, and Tallaght was on course to encounter immense social challenges that were exacerbated by a growing drugs scourge.
Much of the fallout from those tremendous challenges in an area that, by the mid 1980s, accommodated close to 80,000 inhabitants, had to be dealt with by a force of just over 30 gardai at the time.
There is little doubt the efforts of that small group of officers in carrying out their duties in the face of such a population explosion were highly regarded by the community they served, yet the fight for additional numbers and a much-needed new home was to prove long and arduous.
“Anybody involved in politics or community endeavour in Tallaght during that whole period will tell you that we had to fight for everything,” remembered Tallaght Councillor Charlie O’Connor.
“The Square didn’t come until 1990, the college didn’t come until 1992 and the hospital until 1998. All those facilities had to be fought for and that was the point that many of us made.
“The population explosion happened, but there was no parallel development of facilities.
“There were these big campaigns for all the things we needed and the first thing the huge new population in Tallaght got was the garda station.
“When I first came to Tallaght that garda station was in, what is now Fanagans [Funeral Directors]. It was only a small station and it was fairly quickly challenged in coping with a huge population explosion.
“There was a clear need for a new garda station and I have always credited Superintendent Bill McMunn with pressing that case apart from the political and community side,” he stressed.
For former Government minister and leader of the Labour Party, Pat Rabbitte, the severe lack of amenities was one of a number of issues that destabilized the very foundations of Tallaght’s expeditious growth and development, the effects of which would be felt by an already overstretched police force.
He said: “The 1980s was a very tough time for most people in Ireland, but it was especially tough for most people in Tallaght, and the reason for that is, it was a new conurbation.
“The houses came first and any of the accepted conventional amenities and facilities that one would expect with a large conurbation didn’t come.
“In parallel with that, you had an absentee landlord in the shape of Dublin Corporation.
“There was no co-ordination of tenanting policy, so that when a family moved out there was no readiness on the part of the housing landlord to move a family in and very often the houses were vandalised.
“I remember spending a bitterly cold Sunday with a photographer where we got 29 houses in Tallaght that had been destroyed by vandalism, some of them you could photograph through the roofs.
“The other big thing of the ‘80s was a very misguided policy by the Fine Gael/Labour government of the day known colloquially at the time as the 5000 grant.
“There was a grant of 5000 punts for you to surrender your local authority house and buy into the private sector.
“And what happened was that people with a bit of ‘get-up-and-go’ got up and went and their houses were re-tenanted, almost by definition, by people who were unemployed.
“The result was, you started the very harmful policy of developing areas that were predominantly unemployed and that was a huge mistake.
“I remember we did a survey in Fettercairn before the more recent houses. There were 700 houses in it at that time and it was 60 percent unemployed. It was shocking.
“I mean the houses were new, the houses were good, but there just wasn’t employment.
“But the people of Tallaght were very resilient. There was a great excitement and buzz about the community at that time as it fought for things that other communities took for granted. Policing was certainly one aspect of that.
“The provision for policing up to the 1980s was more suited to an Irish country town than it was to a very large suburb,” he stressed.
Richie O’Reilly, a member of St Mark’s Residents’ Association at the time, remembers clearly just how inadequate resources were for local gardai and the significance of the opening of their new home in 1987.
“At that stage, the population of Tallaght was huge,” he said. “You had most of West Tallaght that was built up and you had Millbrook, Old Bawn, Aylesbury, Kilnamanagh, all of those places built up.
“The police station was originally the little cottage in the village and, at one stage, you had to sign on for the labour there before they got the post office across the road.
“Sometimes you’d be standing outside, waiting for passports and documents to be signed. There’d nearly be a queue outside waiting to go in because there was no waiting room like there is now.
“When the new garda station was built, it was huge compared to a lot of stations elsewhere. Tallaght had one of the first big modern garda stations.
“Apart from schools, it was one of the first amenities to come to Tallaght and it was most welcome.
“It was out on its own in the middle of a field. There was nothing around it.
“For a long time, the new garda station was known as ‘Southfork’ after the TV programme of the 1980s ‘Dallas’ because it was like a big house sitting out there with nothing around it.”
For Joe McCartney, who, in 1986, applied for a transfer to the Detective Unit in Tallaght after three years in Harcourt Square, there was a world of difference between the old and new garda headquarters in Tallaght.
“The old station was kind of Victorian, it was an old country station and more suited to Tallaght as it was in past times,” recalled McCartney.
“It was a little bit primitive in its facilities and there wasn’t a lot of space.
“The detective unit was just a couple of tin sheds out the back that rattled when you walked in and shook when the wind blew – roasting in the summer and freezing in the winter.
“The kitchen and the mess hall were tiny, but we were a happy bunch there. There was great camaraderie in the place and a great atmosphere.
“But moving to the new station was like ‘Welcome to the 21st century!’ It was just so modern,” he remembered.
The new £900,000 home for Tallaght gardai not only afforded them more space and vastly-improved facilities, but helped facilitate a new approach to policing that improved relations between the force and the communities it served.
Indeed, with the numbers of officers suddenly doubling to near on 60 followed by an almost four-fold increase over the next 30 years, Tallaght became an important focal point in the advance of community policing.
This was something that re-energised the force and, in particular, Ian Lackey, the current Superintendent at Tallaght Garda Station who first arrived as a guard in training in 1992.
“The move was a major step forward for policing in Tallaght because two things happened,” he recalled.
“Apart from the additional numbers it afforded, community policing was more or less established then and the new station would have been one of the first models of it.
“Tallaght would have helped spearhead that and then they would have got an awful lot of additional young guards from Templemore who would have begun life as community gardai.
“It was very successful here because what you had was new housing estates in West Tallaght and then you had new guards, so people got to know their local guards and likewise, and that helped build up some strong relationships.
“And you had young guards eager to learn their trade who were out and about and engaging with people for positive reasons, not just negative reasons.
“At the moment 30 percent of the population in this Garda district are non Irish nationals which is higher than the national average.
“So that brings its own challenges in trying to integrate with certain groups that have cultural differences, particularly in their relationship with the police, but we’re kind of breaking down those barriers through the community policing.
“Before I joined the Gardai, I did five years in the English police in a city centre.
“The city centres in England in the late eighties, during the post miners’ strike and with industry winding down, it was very much adversarial policing, whereas here I was allocated to community policing.
“And, hand on heart, I would say I learnt so much about community policing in my time here and I really got to see the value of that engagement with the public.
“You still dealt with what you had to deal with in terms of people committing crime, but you built a relationship with the people and they were telling you what was happening on the ground.
“In my time here, it gave me a different focus, an additional view of what policing was about.
“It showed gardai, who might have pre-conceived ideas coming to a place like Tallaght, that the majority of people here are fierce decent people.
“And it showed members of the public that the guards are human too and that’s why I like things like the basketball leagues, the soccer leagues and helping out with GAA training and that sort of thing.
“That doesn’t necessarily happen in other jurisdictions and it didn’t happen in the jurisdiction I was in where the police were very much a law-enforcement agency and that only, whereas here, we’re much more of a community service as much as we can be, but still have to do the other stuff as well,” he stressed.
Cllr O’Connor was another who favoured the change in policing mindset in a garda district that grew to become the second most populated in the country behind Blanchardstown, saying: “I have always taken the view that it was important to foster good relations between the community and the gardai.
“We’ve been lucky enough, starting with Bill McMunn, and working through successive garda superintendents now to Ian Lackey, that they’ve taken that view, that having good relations with the local community is important.
“And certainly I have always spoken up for the community policing model, because I came from a generation when I lived in Crumlin where it was great to see a local garda walking or cycling around.
“I’ve always favoured that kind of an approach and I’ve always believed that the uniformed garda, being seen in the community is good.
“And young people in the community shouldn’t just see a garda when there’s trouble, he should be part of the community relations system,” he insisted.
One major issue that has, for so long, both threatened and, conversely, strengthened that community relations system over the past 30 years has been the drugs blight which began to take root in Tallaght in the 1980s.
For Rabbitte, who as a minister in the mid-’90s, was appointed to chair a Cabinet sub-committee that came up with proposals, leading to the new National Drugs Strategy and the creation of the local drug task forces, the growth of the drugs problem in Tallaght has had a terrible effect on the region.
“We allowed the drugs menace to take root and that is the single most destructive element that has ravaged the fabric of so many communities,” he asserted.
“It took us a long time to develop specialist units in the gardai to deal with the drugs menace.
“And the histories from other countries is that once the drugs menace takes root, it’s virtually impossible to eradicate it.
“In 1996 I established, on behalf of the government of the day, the National Drugs Strategy and the creation of 11 local drug task forces that were focused on the areas that had the most serious drugs misuse problem.
“But it was 10 to 15 years too late. The problem had taken root.
“It wasn’t a big problem in the very early ‘80s, it wasn’t a big problem in Tallaght because the families were all at family-formation stage, and hadn’t yet grown up to teenagers.
“But many came under the influence of criminal elements and you can see how difficult it is today.
“I mean the drug task forces, including the Tallaght Drug Task Force, have been an outstanding success, but they came 15 years too late.
“It got the numbers down, it saved lives and it put people on the right course.
“There have been some outstanding individuals down the years, the late Tommy Gilson in Jobstown, Mick Duff is still running his centre in Tymon North very successfully and the other centres in Tallaght.
“But they didn’t get the support 15 years earlier when they needed it,” he lamented.
While the infestation of drugs has ravaged so many families and destroyed communities, the shift in attitude to policing that came in the 1980s has seen Tallaght gardai better placed to tackle this colossal scourge.
Certainly Grace Hill, Co-ordinator with the Tallaght Drug and Alcohol Task Force, is adamant that the close relationship between TDATF and Tallaght gardai over the years has been vital in the effort to combat the drugs plague.
“The Task Force has an excellent relationship with the guards,” she stressed.
“I’m there 16 years and the guards, first and foremost, have always had representation around the Task Force table and at Inspector level.
“We’re so lucky at the moment because we have the Superintendent at meetings. Ian Lackey definitely has a genuine interest and passion for community.
“There’s obviously a clear link between the drug issue and the guards and, look, we challenge each other for sure.
“I think the guards have done their very best and I can see the value that the community place in garda representation and garda presence in communities. There’s been some really good community guards in Tallaght.
“And what’s really good for us is that they understand just how the drugs issue impacts communities and families.
“When I think about what happened in the 1990s and the stigmatisation of families, there’s definitely been an improvement in the understanding of how families are impacted.
“I do think most, if not all guards, and certainly the ones I’ve dealt with through Tallaght Garda Station, have had that level of empathy and understanding and also flexibility to meet people where they’re at, in plain clothes, whatever is required.
“We have a Community Addiction Studies course here in Tallaght and most, if not all years, there was a Garda rep on that.
“That’s important because they learn so much and they bring so much as well.
“Another addition that has been really positive for our work has been the introduction of designated inspectors in charge of intimidation.
“This was something that came in about 2012 through the National Family Support Network where, in addressing drug-related intimidation, there would be a designated inspector in each division to deal with community services and families around intimidation.
“I think that was a real acknowlement by the guards, that this is huge for families, they understood what families could go through, and there was a lot of care required around that issue.
“One moment that, for me, really showed the respect between the community and the gardai was last October when one of our community reps Tommy Gilson passed away.
“We were limited in terms of things we could do because of Covid restrictions, but a number of people gathered safely outside JADD (Jobstown Assisting Drug Dependency) in Jobstown.
“And one lovely thing was that Superintendent Ian Lackey was there to salute the coffin. It was very emotional and just such a lovely touch.
“He was very much aware of the contribution Tommy made to the community and the legacy he left behind in JADD, and he was there in full uniform to salute the coffin. It was just so nice.”
And while Tallaght gardai have long recognised and extolled the work of Gilson and so many other activists like him in helping fulfil their common objectives for a better community, so too have the vast majority of people in Tallaght acknowledged and commended the part played by the force in that endeavour.
Never before had support for local gardai been more clearly evident than in the days that followed two particularly tragic incidents that occurred either side of the move to the new headquarters in 1987.
In February of 1982, Garda Patrick Reynolds was fatally wounded when he was shot at Avonbeg Gardens as officers responded to an anonymous phone tip-off regarding suspicious activity at a semi-derelict block of flats there.
And just over 17 years later, in July of 1999, the force was again in mourning when Sgt Andrew Callanan was killed in an arson attack on Tallaght Garda station itself.
Remembering those horrific moments, Superintendent Lackey said Pat Reynolds died back in 1982. He would have worked out of the old station and then we had Andy’s death in 1999.
“Every year we have an annual mass and get-together to commemorate both of them and we have trees planted at the front of the station, one for each of them.
“Every year members of the Reynolds and the Callanan family attend that mass and we still have a very positive connection with them and they’ll always be remembered.
“It’s very difficult to lose a colleague and Pat was tragically shot, but with Andy’s death, there was a physical attack on the station.
“And because it happened in the station, there was a constant reminder there for so long. His own colleagues tended to him as he was dying, it was just so sad, so emotional.
“I was already in the Guards, although I wasn’t here, what was very noticeable was, the community and people, even some with whom we would have had a fraught enough relationship, all came down to pay their respects and put flowers there.
“Today I would say the relationship we have with the community is very positive although there’s always room for improvement.
“I sit on the likes of the Tallaght Drug and Alcohol Task Force Board, we liase closely with community groups, residents groups and the locally elected representatives, including the TDs.
“It only works well because we have their backing and, in fairness, the Council play their role as well.”
Policing in the region has come a long way since Tallaght Garda Station, standing imposingly in open green fields, first opened its doors almost 34 years ago.
But just as the old country house headquarters in Tallaght Village had been quickly outstripped by the population surge of the 1970s and ‘80s, so too today, there are calls for a second station as the district swells with more housing and the region’s frontiers continue to expand.
“For years we used to compare the figures with Limerick,” said Rabbitte. “We were actually larger than Limerick, but Limerick had twice as many gardai.
“I remember that campaign that we ran for years for a second level school and a local garda station in Jobstown.
“We got the second level school, we never got the garda station and again that was the penny-pinching mentality, because if you put in a local garda station, even if it’s only six or 12 gardai, it has to be supplied with certain minimal resources and it costs money.
“But as life became more complex and the drugs menace, in particular, got worse, it was extremely difficult for the gardai in a single station to respond to the demand from across the entire community.
“The new Garda station in 1987 was a symbol of the ongoing progress that was gradually being represented in Tallaght.
“But, if you still compare Tallaght to Limerick, we’re under-policed and I would still make the argument that to serve the area from a single station is not ideal,” he maintained.
“I would never refuse resources, because we’ll always find things to do,” admitted Superintendent Lackey. “I don’t think there’s any superintendent who will say ‘I have enough’.
“But in terms of the day-to-day business, we’re able to manage it. At certain times we’re under significant pressure.
“Additional resources means you can put more resources into dedicated things like community policing, like the drugs unit and then you have the ability to spend more time with people at calls,” he explained.
“There’s a lot of people who believe that, by now, we should have had a new garda station,” said Cllr O’Connor.
“A lot of the garda work has to be done in the offices that they’re using in the neighbouring Plaza Hotel Complex and so there’s certainly a view that there should be a second garda station in Tallaght, probably sited close to Citywest.
“We are now a huge population centre and comparisons are often made with other parts of the country that have more than one garda station.
“When I first came here in 1969 Tallaght was literally a little village.
“There was definitely a rapid development of houses, like Springfield where I moved to, and we used to say that Tallaght suddenly had the population of a city and the status of a village. There was no really serious development of facilities, but the building and opening of a new garda station in 1987 really bucked that trend.
“It was imposing, sitting out there on its own. It really stood out and, in that sense, I think it’s fair to say that the arrival of the new garda station was a hugely important moment for Tallaght.”