Gardaí are constantly being called to Fettitt’s Lane.
A well-known Wexford town centre business dealing with constant anti-social behaviour by young people in an adjoining laneway, has a “decorator on speed dial” to paint over the graffiti that keeps appearing.
The owners of Westgate Design have reported a litany of incidents in Fettitt’s Lane including a bare knuckle boxing fight on New Year’s Eve involving two young men stripped to the waist with a crowd of spectators around them, gangs of teenage school-goers blocking the path of elderly passers-by and shouting abuse, drug deals in broad daylight, shoplifters gathering to share out stolen goods, physical threats to staff members and the deliberate destruction of outdoor furniture and plants.
All of these incidents have been captured on CCTV and gardai are constantly being called to the area to deal with disturbances but their hands are tied because many of those involved are largely underage.
"There is not much that I would be afraid of but I wouldn’t go up that lane in the evening if you paid me and I wouldn’t ask a member of staff to go out there. They know where we park our cars,” said Westgate proprietor Catherine Jordan. She contacted several local politicians including Wexford Fine Gael TD Paul Kehoe who came under fire for saying in the Dáil that he was ashamed of O’Connell Street in Dublin because it was “full of druggies, crime, anti-social behaviour, robberies, takeaways, alcohol and drug abuse”.
"You have these young people running around the town unsupervised. Everyone agrees it’s a problem but it’s still continuing. What’s going on in Wexford is getting to the point where it will be every bit as bad as O’Connell Street if it’s not nipped in the bud,” she added.
Some of the worst activity is taking place between 4pm and 6pm in the evenings after the town’s second level schools have closed, with Friday evenings being a particular flashpoint involving larger numbers, according to Leonard Jordan.
“There has always been people hanging around but we didn’t notice it as much until we got a permit to put out tables and chairs on the lane during Covid,” he said.
"We have no objection to young people hanging out and I’ve told them that, so long as you sit there quietly, don’t be running around shouting at people, breaking plants and throwing things. If they’re quiet and polite and not intimidating anyone, there’s no problem. That’s how I approached it.
"We maintain the lane, we power hose it, we clean up rubbish, we put in lighting and CCTV cameras up and we paint it. We have a painter on speed dial to cover over the graffiti on the walls leading from Key West. As soon as graffiti appears, we paint over it. We’re not complaining. We do it because we are in business and we want the place to look nice and welcoming for people.
"Some elderly people use the laneway to get from Key West car park to the post office in Anne Street and they’re afraid to run the gauntlet of large groups of teenagers shouting abuse. I’ve escorted a few of them through at times.”
According to Leonard, anti-social behaviour and vandalism have worsened in Fettitt’s Lane over the past two years. This coincides with increased garda patrols to stop large numbers of young people previously congregating in Roman Lane in Selskar, a problem which Superintendent Jim Doyle told a Borough District Council meeting in early 2022 was largely due to bad parenting.
At the time, some councillors expressed concern that this could result in the problem moving elsewhere in Wexford and this appears to have happened.
Leonard Jordan praised gardai for their timely response to reports of incidents in Fettitt’s Lane but said they can’t bring charges because most of those involved are underage. “We’re talking 14, 15 and 16-year-olds, in school uniforms. A few of them are as young as 12. They know the gardai can’t do anything to them.
"They’re hanging around, screaming and shouting, throwing rubbish about, verbally abusing customers and other members of the public. Older people are afraid to walk past them on the way to the post office. There could be 20 of them and they’re kicking bags and shouting at people trying to pass.
"I’ve said to them this is not a public park, could you please move on. A few of them said where are we supposed to go. My response was I don’t know, go down to the quay or to Min Ryan Park where there is more space.”
On one occasion, two youths among a larger group cycled their bikes through the restaurant.
Garda officers regularly request the Westgate CCTV when a crime is reported in the laneway.
“We are very thankful to the gardai for what they do in very difficult circumstances,” said Leonard, adding that they dispersed a group of 30-40 that turned up to watch the organised street fight on New Year’s Eve.