Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A GANG of thugs are ‘running riot’ in Mountmellick demanding money from frightened elderly people.

The individuals, several understood to be minors, have been taking money through intimidation in Mountmellick in recent weeks. Countless stories of the public being harassed emerged at Mountmellick Town Council recently, when cllr Denis O’Mara raised the issue.

“In the last 14 days, a gang of thugs in the town have, in broad daylight, been accosting and intimidating people. People are afraid to walk the streets in town,” he said.

Councillors described the incidents as widespread. People shopping, using ATMs or petrol stations in the Mountmellick area were particularly vulnerable.

Cllr Bobby Delaney said that the thugs had even gone as far as getting into the cars of people and demanding money.

“To get them out of the car people have handed over money,” he said.

One person parted with €10 after a youth got into the car and refused to leave, according to cllr O’Mara. He said the man didn’t dare refuse the youth, as he had his hand thrust into his pocket.

“He did not know whether he had a syringe or a knife,” he said.

Another individual handed over €60 in fear.

Cllr Marc Connolly said a town of 5,000 people was being harassed by “three or four running riot.”

“I could not see it being tolerated in any other city or town in Ireland. It’s not like we are living up at the top of the Slieve Blooms. We are a town of 5,000 people,” he said.

Cllr Lynch said that out of fear people were paying for taxis and organising lifts with friends instead of walking the streets.

One elderly women who was leaving bingo was accosted by the thugs, but was saved by her fellow bingo-goers.

“She will not be going to bingo anymore out of safety,” said cllr Delaney.

An elderly couple in their late 60s were even forced to drive some of the thugs to Portlaoise.

“They were at the MDA (Mountmellick Development Association) and they demanded to be driven to Portlaoise. They refused, but they persisted and they ended up driving to Portlaoise with them and dropping them under the railway bridge,” said Ollie Payne.

Cllr Delaney said that he had been accosted by some of the same individuals. He refused both demands for money and a lift.

Businesses were also being plagued by the group, who were haranguing customers.

Cllr O’Mara said that one business was only opening when a customer was at the door. The business let the customer in before shutting the door and only opened it again to let the customer out.

“(The businessperson) is closing her business early to get to her car in case she would be another victim,” he added.

Garda presence in the town was again debated. There was frustration that gardaí were not as visible as they had been in recent weeks and there was concern over the garda station’s infrequent opening hours.

Two councillors said that they had contacted the station without success. Cllr Connolly said that he was put through to Portlaoise Garda Station, but had not received a response. Cllr Stephen Lynch said that he had simply got an ‘out of service’ message when he rang the station.

“You’d get Santa Claus before you get the gardaí in the town at the moment,” said cllr O’Mara.

The thugs are thought to have moved into the Mountmellick area recently and are not from Laois originally.

“If it was 25 or 30 years ago, they would not be around the town. They would be beaten out of it. That is the truth. They are thugs,” said cllr Connolly.

The Fianna Fáil councillor added: “A pub of 500 people had two bouncers protecting people inside. We have a town of 5,000 people, who do we ring?”

It was acknowledged that gardaí, when at the station, had confronted the individuals on at least one occasion. However, more resources needed to be deployed to Mountmellick, according to councillors.

“We are being ignored. We are not getting the service that people demand,” said cathaoirleach Pat Bowe.

Councillors were due to meet Supt Yvonne Lundon this week, where the topic is due to discussed.

Gardaí in Mountmellick were unavailable for comment.

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