Wednesday 28 September 2016

Gangs 'setting fires, melting razor blades and smearing dog excrement' into playground equipment

Sasha Brady

Published 02/04/2016 | 12:21

The charred remains of rubber matting in a play space in Hermitage Green, Lucan. Photo: William Lavelle
The charred remains of rubber matting in a play space in Hermitage Green, Lucan. Photo: William Lavelle
There are reports of vandals melting razor blades into swings in playgrounds across the country.

Gangs are melting razor blades into playground slides and vandalising play equipment making them unsafe for children.

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They are also reportedly loosening screws on swings and smearing dog excrement into play equipment, according to one local councillor.

The vandalism was spotted in Galway where concerned parents raised the issue with city councillor Niall McNelis.

"It's sickening but we've heard reports that teenagers are melting razor blades into slides. That could cause serious harm to any child playing there," Cllr McNelis told Independent.ie.

"We've seen broken bottles in playgrounds, reports of syringes lying around and then there are people loosening screws on swings and smearing dog excrement on the children's play equipment."

Cllr McNelis said that the problem is not unique to Galway.

"It's a nationwide problem. I've spoken to councillors up and down the country who have heard reports of similar incidents in their local areas."

A playground and skate park in Knocknacarra has been closed for nearly three months due to the vandalism, as well as wear and tear.

The charred remains of rubber matting in a play space in Hermitage Green, Lucan. Photo: William Lavelle
The charred remains of rubber matting in a play space in Hermitage Green, Lucan. Photo: William Lavelle

It is due to be reopened in a fortnight after Galway City Council ordered €80,000 worth of state-of-the-art equipment.

Cllr McNelis is hopeful that deterrents can be put in place to stop the acts of vandalism damaging the facilities.

"Proper lighting in these [play] areas might discourage teenagers from hanging around there after hours.

"Another solution would be the Mosquito (a white noise, anti-loitering device) which emits a piercing high pitch that affects teenagers more."

The charred remains of rubber matting in a play space in Hermitage Green, Lucan. Photo: William Lavelle
The charred remains of rubber matting in a play space in Hermitage Green, Lucan. Photo: William Lavelle

He continued: "In Galway our playgrounds are inspected daily by a warden. We've now highlighted the issue and we hope people will keep an eye on it a lot more.

"What should be a fun place for children to enjoy themselves in has become unsafe," he said.

"One of the issues is that there just isn't enough [recreational] facilities for teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17.

"You've got a bunch of young people trying to show off to each other and they think it's funny until someone gets hurt.

"Just imagine if it was your little brother, sister, next-door neighbour or even your own child who was playing there and was injured."

Gardai are not investigating any specific incidents but Cllr McNelis has urged people who witness any acts of vandalism to report it to their local gardai.

In Lucan, rubber matting was set alight and destroyed by a gang of youths in a play space in Hermitage Green on Thursday evening. The charred remains pose a potential health and safety risk for locals and the cost of repairing the damage is considerable.

Playground Vandalism: Esplenade playground with broken activities and a damaged surface
Playground Vandalism: Esplenade playground with broken activities and a damaged surface

Local councillor William Lavelle called the act "pure thuggery".

"It's left local residents, including parents and young children, horrified," he said when speaking to Independent.ie.

"It's very upsetting. These gangs of teenagers are not representative of normal teenagers. It's just a handful that have no respect for property or the welfare of others.

"It's a game with them to see what and how much damage they can cause."

Cllr Lavelle has said that the local council is working with the gardai to identify the culprits.

He also expressed his wish to install high-definition CCTV cameras in the area as a deterrent to would-be vandals.

Replacement bin at the Ballywaltrim Playground
Replacement bin at the Ballywaltrim Playground

Last September, a solar powered bin at the playground in Ballywaltrim, Wicklow was set on fire.

The playground, which is located on Schools Road, had been recently upgraded, to a cost exceeding €100,000.

The value of the bin which was destroyed by vandals who set the fire was €6,000.

It was followed by the discovery of broken glass, used condoms, drugs paraphernalia and alcohol bottles at the playground in Kinallen, Co Down in November 2015.

Damage was also done to changing rooms in nearby playing fields.

These are some of the handful of known incidents of the intentional sabotage of a playground, following a similar attack on a facility in Kilkeel where nails were screwed through a plastic slide.

TUV councillor in the area, Henry Reilly, slammed those responsible.

“Anyone who would deliberately try to injure a child is a sick and evil person who needs locked away for life,” he said.

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