September 26, 2022

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An Garda Síochána is not considering setting up a specialised public transport police unit at the moment.

In a statement on Wednesday, An Garda Síochána said it “proactively engages” with transport operators —including the National Transport Authority, Irish Rail and Transdev Ireland — to provide a co-ordinated garda presence on public transport “to prevent and tackle anti-social behaviour”.

“All incidents reported to An Garda Síochána are fully investigated, with a pro-active arrest policy and prosecuted where possible,” it said.

“An Garda Síochána is not considering the establishment of a transport police unit at the moment.”

The statement comes after the National Bus & Rail Union (NBRU) said the travelling public “urgently needs” a permanent and dedicated Garda public transport unit after a man (26) was assaulted while on a late night bus home in Dublin city in the early hours of Sunday, in a suspected homophobic attack.

Mark Sheehan, from southwest Dublin, had been out socialising last Saturday night in The George nightclub on Dame Street with three friends, celebrating two of their birthdays.

While taking a late night bus home with his friends, Mr Sheehan was assaulted by a young man on the bus, after being called a “f****t” by a group of men.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said a decision on whether there would be a dedicated transport police would be a matter “for the Garda Commissioner rather than the Government”.

“I think we can all agree that what we would like to see is an increased Garda presence on public transport at bus and train stations, and also increased security provided by the companies as well,” he told reporters.

“I think everyone can agree on that and that should be done.”

Dermot O’Leary, general secretary of the NBRU, said it appeared that “not a day goes by without yet another assault occurring on our public transport system”.

Mr O’Leary said while there had been much support from politicians across the political spectrum on the need for such a Garda unit, “they have yet to legislate for its establishment”.

“Quite apart from the absolute necessity to ensure that there are consequences for those thugs that are wreaking havoc across various modes of transport, the move towards encouraging increased public transport travel will falter,” he said.

“This comes at a time when the Government’s own Climate Action Plan contains proposals to increase daily travel journeys by 500,000 by 2030.

“The type of viciousness witnessed during the assault on an innocent passenger last Saturday night on Dublin Bus, would hardly encourage more of our citizens to migrate towards public transport.

“It has long since passed time that our politicians acted on their own words of support and move to establish a dedicated Garda public transport division.”

Speaking earlier on Wednesday, former Assistant Garda Commissioner Pat Leahy backed calls for a dedicated transport police division.

It was something that seriously needed to be considered and aligned with efforts to encourage people to use public transport, he told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show.

Anti-social behaviour on public transport was a long running problem, but the existing garda resources could not be stretched to include a transport division and dedicated transport unit would have to be separately funded, he said.

Mr Leahy said his own preference would be for a separate transport police force which would have powers of enforcement and access to holding facilities and the legal system.

Fianna Fáil TD John Lahart said he was fed up waiting for the Government to establish a dedicated service.

“I’m growing increasingly impatient at the delay in a proper Government response to this,” the Dublin South West TD told Newstalk’s Hard Shoulder.

“What we need to get to is a dedicated transport police, so that whether you and I – or anybody of any age or gender or race – is open to the possibility, a random possibility, that there may be a Garda onboard.”

Mr Lahart also said private security firms, such as those used on the Luas or Irish Rail, were not the answer.

“They do not have the power of detention and arrest as the Gardaí do – the airport police have these powers,” he added.

“In London, they have London Transport Police and in other cities they do, that have the same powers as Gardaí, to detain and arrest.

“What [is] going to happen is a fall-off in the confidence of people using public transport. This has to stop.”

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