I thank the Chair for allowing me raise this important matter. It gives me no joy as a public representative for County Westmeath to relate to the House a series of vicious attacks which occurred in College Park, Athlone, over the past 15 months and the resulting terror and fear that has gripped the residents of this estate. Some of these attacks would be more appropriate to a gangster film than a residential estate. They tarnised the image of Athlone and terrorised its people.
In a series of incidents in May 1993 weapons such as pickaxe handles, slash hooks and iron bars were used. People were severely cut and injured and many vehicles were badly damaged. Some time later a convoy of 30 vans converged on College Park, sealed it off and the passengers sought a man who lived in the estate. On failing to find him they proceeded to wreck his house.
Speculation about a further attack on this man in September last brought a convoy of his friends to the area and they proceeded to occupy the estate for a considerable time, leaving the terrified householders hiding indoors. On Thursday last week guns were brandished by masked gunmen who kicked in the front door of 23 College Park, Athlone. Luckily this house was unoccupied at the time of the attack. The attackers, realising they were in the wrong house, beat a hasty retreat to the adjoining house which was their intended target.
TheWestmeath Independent outlined what happened next: “One shot was fired upstairs with the bullet ricocheting from the landing area into an upstairs bedroom before the gunmen fled.” Thankfully nobody was killed or injured in this attack. The residents of the area were terrified. They live in daily fear of similar attacks and fear for their safety and that of their children. No longer can children feel safe playing in their own garden. Their freedom and enjoyment must be curtailed.
In an interview with theWestmeath Independent the man at the centre of these attacks stated: “I hold nothing against this other family who hired someone to do this job. They are supposed to be terrified of me but why I do not know”. The reference to hired gunmen points to the involvement of subversives in this attack and it is speculated that they are members of the INLA who came from Dundalk. Will this man co-operate with the gardaí to bring the attackers to justice? If he knows those who initiated the attack why does he not sort out his difficulties with them in a civilised manner? Scenes such as these are intolerable.
The residents in College Park are entitled to live in peace without fear of being innocently caught up in dangerous situations like this. They deserve and must be afforded all the protection the State can give them. The Minister for Justice must intervene immediately and give the Garda the resources necessary to protect the innocent and, more important, bring the guilty to justice. I call on the Minister of State to act before further escalation of this violence has fatal consequences.