Besieged Arklow residents are being plagued by groups of noisy boy racers and are hesitant to report them out of fear of reprisal.
Ask any Arklow parent what the phrase “Vroom-vroom-pop!” means to them and they’ll tell you that it perfectly describes the cacophony of sounds that keep their children awake at all hours of the morning.
The bangs, crackle and pops created by the small explosions in the exhausts of boy racer’s souped up cars have caused the Arklow community untold anguish over the past number of months. While complaints about modified cars are frequently raised at a local community alert and council level, many residents live in fear of repercussions and suffer in silence.
Arklow resident Paul Burke, who lives near the exit road out of Arklow towards Gorey, was one of the few people we approached who was willing to speak publicly on the issue. He maintains that more people would make reports, if they saw some form of tangible response from the Gardai.
“It seemed like they (boy racers) had died out over the years, but there are an awful lot of them around these days,” Paul said. “In fact, to my knowledge, it’s as bad as it has ever been again.
“My wife was woken up at about 3am the other night with the sound of them. Now, this was midweek mind you. It’s not as if they would have the decency to let up for the children who are going to school, or the parents who are going to work.
“What they do is, they drive out to where we live, do their spins and then race back into town, or off towards Gorey. Some of them have a modification on their exhausts that make a huge bang that sounds like a bomb going off. Then there’s another thing that sounds like an air jet whenever they change gear.
“And it’s not just late at night,” Paul continued. “Yesterday evening, at about 6.30pm, I was driving back into town and there were four or five of them that zoomed passed me down the Wexford Road. You see those souped up cars, with their loud exhausts, and it’s just done to intimidate people. That’s all it is.
“What I’d like to know is, where are the gardai when all this is going on? I don’t think that’s an unreasonable request.”
The powers and resources possessed by Gardai to address the issue where indeed called into question at the recent meeting of the newly amalgamated Wicklow-Wexford Joint Police Committee. Following a presentation on crime statistics by Chief Superintendent Anthony Pettit, Arklow councillor Tommy Annesley took the opportunity to broach the issue.
“Listen, if it’s happening in Arklow, it’s happening county-wide,” Cllr Annesley said. “Over the last number of weeks I’ve received phone calls from the residents of Arklow about the these high speed cars going around the town late at night.
“Now, a number of years ago the Chamber of Commerce funded an exhaust monitor for Arklow – but where has this monitor gone? I was told that it’s gone to the traffic division in Ashford but I haven’t heard a peep about it since.”
The device Cllr Annesley referred to is a state-of-the-art piece of sound monitoring equipment which alerts Gardai at the roadside if the sound from an exhaust exceeds the legal decibel limit. The current NCT exhaust noise limit is set at 99 dB.
In response, Chief Superintendent Anthony Pettit said, “The issue around high-speed vehicles, in Arklow in particular, normally comprises of a number of different things. Sometimes it’s speed, sometimes it’s not.
“As you (Cllr Annesley) mentioned, sometimes it’s just noise and the perception that there are a number of high-speed vehicles on the go. When in fact, it’s the revving of vehicles which usually occurs at a particular time of night.
“There is a certain annoyance that accompanies those gatherings, and we do have them across both counties,” he continued. “We attend them and there are prosecutions in relation to speeding or dangerous driving, or indeed where the vehicles are adapted and aren’t in compliance with the road traffic act.
“We will certainly look into the device that was mentioned, to make sure it does go back to Arklow.”
Among the related issues that were raised at the JPC meeting was the fear associated with reporting this kind of anti-social behaviour. Indeed, of the many Arklow residents we approached to speak about the issue with boy racers, few wanted their identity published – out of fear of reprisal.
One Arklow resident, who preferred to remain anonymous, told us that they had recently moved to the centre of town with their two young children and that their experiences with boy racers have turned the move into an “absolute nightmare”.
“I’m very hesitant to reveal my name,” they began. “You just don’t know who reads what, and who is going to come throwing rocks though your windows, especially when I’m at home alone, with two kids.
“We moved to Parnell Terrace, just off the Wexford Road, a few months ago. It’s a very built up area, so when the cars come through at night, it’s very very loud.
“My oldest son is autistic. He was hit by a car a few years ago, so when he hears those sounds at night it gives him nightmares, to the point where I have to sleep with him. He is very sensory oriented, so it really brings back those bad memories.
“I used to live on the outskirts of Arklow and I could still hear the racers then,” they added. “But I was away from the main road there, so it wasn’t that bad. Here, even though I have double-glazing on my windows, the sound is amplified and echoes so much that it always wakes me and my children up.
“I understand that the Gardai don’t have the resources to go door to door, but let us do our bit! I have a dash cam running 24/7 on my car. Let me send you the footage and you can prosecute them.
People are afraid to come forward to you, so give them more options. It’s not rocket science!”
That fear around reporting anti-social behaviour was raised by a number of councillors at the JPC meeting, including Cllr Peir Leonard and Greystones councillor Tom Fortune, with the latter saying that communities “are putting up with it in silence”.
Fine Gael councillor Shay Cullen also weighed in, saying, “There’s not a day that goes by without someone calling me about issues around anti-social behaviour. But, the reality is, people are fearful of making complaints to the Gardai.
“I sit on the local community council in Newtown, Laragh and Roundwood. The common denominator in all those areas is that there is a fear factor of reporting these teenagers.
“The areas I’m talking about – Newtown, Laragh, Roundwood, uplands areas – you would probably describe them as quiet areas. They used to be quiet areas, is what I’d say. There is a major problem with anti-social behaviour, and it needs to be tackled.
“This needs a lot of work done,” he added. “We have to be careful in regards to how do we expect the public to play a prominent role in helping the gardai. There are various district forums that are in use, but I think the gardai have to play a more active role in them.
Chief Superintendent Pettit agreed and said, “I would agree that there is a fear in some cases of reporting this type of crime. While some people are happy to see the gardai on the night, they are fearful of whether the people will come back the next night. Effectively, they are worried that they’ll worsen the situation by reporting it.
“Apart from picking up the phone to the local garda station, there are a number of avenues people can come to us through. Through yourselves (councillors), through community alert groups and so on.
“Certainly, if you’re aware of people who won’t pick up the phone, our door is open to being informed of anti-social behaviour. We’ll do our best to resolve the situation for them, and we appreciate the position they find themselves in.”