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Locals say town like ‘war zone’ at hands of feuding Traveller gangs

Locals in the Limerick town of Rathkeale have described how their community descended into scenes similar to that of a ‘war zone’ on Monday night, as brutal fighting broke out between three separate feuding groups. It is understood that those responsible for the violence are several prominent Traveller families.

The groups are reportedly involved in a vicious local feud that sources say fear will end in people being badly injured or worse. Armed Gardaí were seen patrolling the town in the aftermath of the violence on Monday, which left multiple vehicles written off in ramming incidents involving jeeps. Machetes were also allegedly produced, with gardai sealing off a large section of the town on Monday night.  

It has been widely reported that traveller gangs are responsible for the feuding in the area, with local people and politicians condemning the disturbing scenes. Images posted to social media along with video footage shows men running while carrying weapons, and numerous vehicles including six jeeps, were rammed – leaving a garda requiring surgery. 

Videos have also been posted of the aftermath of the disturbing violence to social media platforms, showing several cars badly damaged and left abandoned on the street, with large groups of people recording the violence on their phones.

It is understood that the Guard deployed Public Order units along with additional Armed Support Units to back up local officers to deal with the “mayhem” in the area.

The Irish Examiner reported that gangs linked to a notorious crime family are responsible for the brutality, amid claims the family attempted to exhort lands and properties from locals in the west county Limerick town, causing “havoc” in the area for several weeks.

Local Fianna Fail councillor and retired Garda Kevin Sheahan called on the gardai to use everything in their power – including “batons” to clear the streets and restore order in the embattled town. The councillor had expressed concerns about potential violence in the area three weeks ago, with Cllr Sheahan saying he had been warned he could be a possible target for attack because he had raised the issue of increased tensions at a meeting which took place between local councillors.

The councillor had cautioned that “law and order has gone out the window” in the town, as he urged for an increased Garda presence in the area, amid expectations of further violence and a traditional increase in the Traveller community returning from places like the UK over the Christmas period.

Speaking on Tuesday night, Cllr Kevin Sheahan said that it was “shameful” such a situation could unfold in a town in his own municipal district, and that it could happen in the run-up to Christmas, when traditionally extra measures are taken by the Gardai “in anticipation that this type of thing is likely to happen”.

He added: “I think it is a disgrace that the town of Rathkeale is getting negatively labelled again. I know a lot of people in the settled community and the traveller community and the overwhelming majority of them are A1, they are good citizens.

“The ones that come home for Christmas and triple the population – they are not the people causing this grief – they are people that come home to have celebrations, there might be incidents but they are manageable incidents,” the elected representative said.

Meanwhile, another local councillor, Adam Tesky of Fine Gael, said he had been “inundated” with calls and texts from worried locals. Cllr Tesky said an armed garda unit was needed in the town for the foreseeable future to restore calm.

“I’m shocked and appalled by this, I have been in touch with the Chief Superintendent’s office and I have made my feelings and concerns, and those of locals, known to him.”

“I understand this is an ongoing garda matter,” he said.

He praised Gardai who responded to Monday’s violent incidents, but stressed that “there is an outcry for a more sustained armed Garda response in the town”.

Minister for Justice Simon Harris paid a visit to Rathkeale on Tuesday night, where he met with local Garda reps and some members of the community. Fine Gael TD Patrick O’Donovan praised the Minister for giving “firm commitments that all resources necessary would be available to tackle criminality” in the community.

The Irish Mirror among others reported that concerned locals said the town was on a “knife-edge” over the last few weeks, following the seizure of weapons at a property in the town by Gardai. Following that, shots were reportedly fired at a car, a mobile home was attacked by men in balaclavas and armed with slash hooks, and one Garda suffered serious injuries in a ramming incident. 

The injured officer required surgery but has since returned to duty, local sources have said.

In a statement posted on Tuesday, Gardaí described the violence on the evening of 19 December as a “serious public order incident”.

The statement said: “Gardaí received report of a number of vehicles engaged in dangerous driving on the R523 Road, Boherbui, in Rathkeale town and attended the scene. 

“Responding Gardaí directed a large number of people present to disperse and closed the road for examination. A number of vehicles abandoned in the road were seized by Gardaí and taken for technical examination”.

While no arrests have been made, investigations are ongoing.

Gardaí are appealing to anyone who may have witnessed the incident to come forward. They have also appealed to anyone in the Rathkeale area between 2pm and 4pm on Monday who may have video footage or photographs, including road users, to make those images available to them.

Anyone with any information is asked to contact Rathkeale Garda Station on 069 63 222, the Garda Confidential Line on 1800 666 111, or any Garda station.

Local Garda Management, across the Country have put in place local policing plans for the Christmas period. Gardaí say policing plans are monitored and assessed on an ongoing basis and reviewed in line with evolving incidents and risks.

Gardaí said in the statement that a policing plan for Rathkeale continues in place, commensurate with the current policing need, primarily based on Community engagement and High visibility uniform patrols and static checkpoints, supported where necessary by Regional Units.

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