EXTRA patrols of armed gardai, along with doctors and nurses, are being deployed to a town which is set to treble in size with Travellers returning home for Christmas.
The population of Rathkeale in Co Limerick is estimated at 1,500 but residents expect this figure to reach around 5,000 over the coming weeks as relations of large Traveller families make their way home from the UK and mainland Europe for the festive season.
At a meeting of Limerick County Council's joint policing committee last Monday, senior gardai unveiled their plans, which were put into place this weekend.
Members of the armed Regional Support Unit (RSU) will be deployed to Rathkeale to support their colleagues when it is anticipated that there will be public-order issues.
Inspector Paul Reidy said the policing plan would run until January 6 and would be around the clock.
He said: "We will have a lot of extra gardai deployed in the area around Rathkeale. There will be extra patrols, checkpoints, speed detection and monitoring will be taking place also. Gardai will be very alert – the traffic corps will be doing extra patrols and the RSU will be out to assist us.
"Manpower will be deployed on a 24-hour basis. That should have a very positive impact and allow us to police the town far more effectively," he added.
A juvenile-liaison officer will also be based in the town over the holiday period. Any criminal offences are expected to be processed at a sitting of Limerick District Court over the holiday period. A HSE spokesman has also confirmed that a triage clinic will open in Rathkeale from December 20 to January 4.
Doctors and nurses will be rostered to work there and it will be open in the town's public health clinic each day apart from Christmas Day and New Year's Day. From prior experience, it is expected that the majority of those attending the clinic will be complaining of respiratory problems.
Councillor Stephen Keary said an influx of English-registered vehicles caused traffic chaos in Rathkeale every holiday period.
"There are unofficial road blocks and people will block up the whole of the road, having full-blown conversations for 10 minutes. These are souped-up, English-registered cars driven by young people.
"For the six-week festive period, they (the Travellers) bring in a lot of money but they keep ordinary people away from the town who are there for the rest of the year."
Last year, 30 vehicles were seized and taken from the Rathkeale area by gardai.