New Justice Minister Simon Harris has visited Rathkeale in the wake of an outbreak of violence in the Limerick town.
The minister was under pressure over his response after six SUVs were rammed and a machete was brandished in unprecedented scenes in broad daylight.
Armed gardaí are now patrolling the streets of Rathkeale and garda checkpoints were placed along a stretch of road today, in a bid to keep a lid on rising tensions in the town.
The acting Justice Minister walked the streets of the town tonight in a show of solidarity with locals who called for more gardaí on the beat to tackle a violent feuding in the town.
Mr Harris said any additional garda resources required by gardaí in Rathkeale “would be forthcoming” to tackle feuding factions.
He pledged that those involved in such violence would be pursued by the State: “No part of this country is beyond the reach of the law,” he said.
Mr Harris, who had talks with the head of the Limerick Garda Division, Chief Superintendent Derek Smart, said some additional resources had already being provided to local gardaí to help them keep a lid on rising tensions between rival factions in the town.
He said Monday’s violence was “abhorrent and utterly unacceptable, and will not be tolerated by An Garda Síochána”.
He added that Rathkeale was a “proud town with great people in it”.
Mr Harris came under mounting pressure to visit the town and reassure local residents law and order will be maintained. The acting minister was specifically invited to an emergency meeting between local politicians and gardaí this week to discuss the outbreak of violence.
Helen McEntee, who is currently on maternity leave, headed directly to a Dublin suburb following an outbreak of anti-social behaviour. The then Justice Minister met with community groups and announced a series of policing measures following the ramming of a garda car in Cherry Orchard.
An emergency meeting of the Joint Policing Committee between gardaí, councillors and local officials has been called for this Friday morning. Fine Gael councillor Adam Teskey, the chairman of the committee, has invited the minister to attend meeting at 10am in Limerick County Hall.
"The minister is welcome to attend. His presence would be very welcome. He should also come to Rathkeale to meet locals and business owners," he said.
Junior Minister Niall Collins also said the minister would be welcome in the area.
"If the minister does decide to visit Rathkeale, he would be most welcome. I am prepared to facilitate his visit to my constituency to meet with the local community," the Limerick TD said.
Video footage of the aftermath shows debris littering the ground following the altercation just off the main street of the West Limerick town.
The unprecedented scenes saw UK registered SUVs seemingly ramming each other on the public road.
Mr Harris said the scenes in Rathkeale yesterday were "absolutely unacceptable".
“This Government is committed to building stronger, safer communities – in rural Ireland and in our towns and cities. Everybody has the right to feel safe and to be safe in their homes.
“In response to these scenes yesterday, the Garda Armed Support Unit was deployed rapidly. I have been assured an enhanced policing presence will continue to be part of the policing plan over Christmas to ensure peace and order is maintained in the town.
“Garda investigations are ongoing, and they have appealed to any witnesses to contact Rathkeale Garda Station to make sure that those involved can be identified and prosecuted.
“There is no place for this kind of violence in our society. I know the community in Rathkeale is rightly proud of their town and abhor these appalling
Gardaí have confirmed they are investigating a “public order and dangerous driving incident in Rathkeale, Co. Limerick”.
"Gardaí received report of a number of vehicles engaged in dangerous driving on the R523 Road in Rathkeale town and attended the scene.
Gardaí directed a number of people present to disperse and closed the road for examination. Investigations are ongoing and no further information is available at this time.”
In a statement to Independent.ie gardaí also appealed for witnesses to the incident.
"Gardaí are appealing to anyone who may have witnessed this incident to come forward. Any road users who were travelling in the Rathkeale area between 2pm and 4pm this afternoon who may have camera footage (including dash cam) is asked to make it available to Gardaí. 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."
Junior Minister Niall Collins called for more garda resources to be put into policing the town.
"Maybe the gardaí need to revive their dedicated policing plan in view of what's happened today. This is a shocking new low and it's a minority of people sullying the name of the town for a lot of decent people - and making elderly people fearful.”
He said the incident was particularly disturbing as it happened in the middle of the day and businesses were forced to close.
"It happened at a time when people kids were being collected from school, so this was hugely traumatic," the Limerick TD said.
Mr Collins described it as a “totally shocking incident”, and said Rathkeale is a “fine town”, but it faces a “lot of challenges” at this time of year.
He said: “There has to be a dedicated policing plan, a dedicated HSE public health plan has to be rolled out also to ensure the proper delivery of public health… Lots of traffic issues, lots of policing issues have been arising for the last number of years.”
Speaking yesterday, Fianna Fáil Limerick Councillor Kevin Sheahan said gardaí should do everything in their power - including using “batons” to clear the streets at times of unrest - to restore order in Rathkeale.
Mr Collins echoed these comments, saying he has “no issue with gardaí using the tools or the tactical equipment that are available to them”.
“Hopefully if the investigation into yesterday’s incident yields a potential prosecution, which the courts have to deal with, there are other avenues available to An Garda Siochana where they can seek the possible exclusion of individuals from Rathkeale or from the wider area, or indeed from the country,” he told RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne programme.
For people living in Rathkeale, Mr Collins said they want to know how the ongoing disruption is being investigated.
“There’s been a number of incidents in Rathkeale recently, for example, a number of weeks ago a garda car was rammed, a garda was badly injured from it,” he added.
Mr Collins argued that a lot of work is done by business, sporting and community groups in the area, and local people are “angry that the good name” of Rathkeale is being tarnished.