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25/07/2021

New Garda chief aims ‘to change the public perception of Longford’

Superintendent Seamus Boyle takes on countywide role

Jessica Thompson chats to recently appointed Supt Seamus Boyle as he settles into his new Longford role

It was 35 years ago last week that a young Seamus Boyle walked through the gates of Templemore, setting in motion a series of events that would eventually see him take on the role of Superintendent over the entire county of Longford.

The Bunlahy native took the helm in the Granard District two years ago, overseeing local feuds, drug busts and other criminal activity while maintaining a strong relationship with the local community - something he intends to keep up as he takes on even more responsibility.

But the reputation of Longford is top of his agenda as he settles into his new role. Longford has hit headlines across the country for all the wrong reasons in recent years and Supt Boyle feels the county has so much more to offer than bad news.

“It’s great to be taking over in Longford. My heart has always been in Longford,” he said.

“I don’t see it as having the reputation it has nationally. I’ve worked in a lot of places that have bigger issues than Longford and I know Longford has its problems but so do most major towns in Ireland.

“We do have our problems and it’s not something you can turn around overnight. But there’s great work being done here by the gardaí and the County Council and other agencies. There are fantastic people working in Longford.”

Supt Boyle is particularly keen to work alongside the Community Safety Partnership, a pilot scheme which is being run in Longford, Waterford and Dublin’s north inner city for two years before it is rolled out nationally.

Also being rolled out in the near future is An Garda Síochána’s new divisional policing model, which will see a reduction in the total number of Garda divisions from 28 to 19 and grant more autonomy at divisional level.

With such a model due to come into effect shortly, it seemed a no-brainer to put the already well-established, well-respected and already locally-based Granard man at the head of the entire Longford District, following the retirement of former Superintendent Jim Delaney.

“The new policing model will see one superintendent for the whole county, so it’s possible I’ll be the Community Engagement Superintendent with responsibility for community policing, road traffic and low level crime such as public order, thefts, etc,” Supt Boyle explained.

“But anything above burglary will go to a crime superintendent over the division of Mayo, Longford and Roscommon.”

Supt Boyle passed out of Templemore Garda College on December 4, 1986, and began his career in Lifford, Co Donegal, where he was stationed for nine months before moving to Harcourt Terrace in Dublin, where he remained until 1991.

For the next nine years, he worked as a Detective between Ronanstown and Clondalkin before being promoted to Sergeant and moving to Tallaght in 2000. The next few years saw him move to Drumkeeran, Co Leitrim, before taking over the traffic unit in Carrick-on- Shannon until 2010 when he was promoted to Inspector and moved to Cavan.

JPC gives thumbs up to new Longford garda chief

The appointment of Supt Seamus Boyle as head of Co Longford's garda division has been greeted with universal approval at Joint Policing Committee (JPC) level.

Six years later he was promoted again, taking over as Superintendent in Castlerea, Co Roscommon, then moving to Granard in March 2019 where he has been Superintendent for two years.

In all those years with An Garda Síochána, Supt Boyle has investigated nearly every type of crime from traffic offences to murder and everything in between.

“When I moved to Sligo, I had no knowledge of traffic and I took over as traffic inspector. So there are very few aspects of the job that I haven’t done,” he said.

“When I was a detective and a sergeant, there weren’t as many speciality units so you learned how to do a lot of investigations.

“I was involved in the Veronica Guerin inquiry, which was a fantastic example of how an investigation should be carried out. The two people that led it - assistant commissioner Tony Hickey and Detective Inspector Todd O’Loughlin - you’d work for them for nothing. They were model leaders.

“Myself and my partner were tasked with following members of the gang. We had intimate knowledge of the gang. We were involved in interviewing some of the suspects and carried out a lot of searches.

“But the most significant case - or the one that put me under the most pressure - was the C-Case,” he recalled.

The C-Case is well documented in Irish history, particularly with regard to abortion law. It took place in 1997 and involved the violent rape of a 13-year-old girl who fell pregnant and was traumatised as a result.

Following the X-Case five years earlier, the Supreme Court ruled that abortion would be permitted where there was a threat to the victim’s life - including a risk of suicide - and the young victim in the C-Case was brought to the UK for a termination.

“The case probably wouldn’t have been reported, only a fella came to me. I went and found the child abandoned under some blankets in her caravan,” said Supt Boyle, recalling the “dire conditions” in which she and her family had been living.

“I invoked the children’s act and had her taken into care and handed her over to the social workers. While she was in the care of the HSE they found out she was pregnant and as a result of all that, the case came in front of the High Court and I had to give evidence.

“In the mid 90s there was a different attitude towards abortion in this country so there was a lot of intimidation of the social worker and we had to escort her and the child everywhere. Any time she was going to court, we had to escort her,” said Supt Boyle.

“There was a lot of pressure to catch the suspect, which we did. He became involved in another rape of an elderly woman and I had to give evidence.”

That second rape took place at the home of an 86-year-old woman in 2008 - after the suspect had served time in prison for the rape of the young girl. In 2009,following a garda investigation, that suspect was jailed for 21 years.

While the outcome of that particular case was a success, with the suspect being put behind bars, Supt Boyle stressed that not every case works out and there will inevitably be losses along the way.

“You have to learn there are some cases you’re going to lose. Our job is to present the evidence we have and accept the decision of the court. Some cases I worked on in the past were lost,” he said, referring to a murder investigation he was involved with some time ago.

“I met with the victim’s family and the evidence in that case was shocking. We lost the case through no fault of anybody. But it’s particularly hard on the victim’s families for someone not to be convicted.

“The hours put into the investigation don’t matter but you would feel for the family. Especially when cases are lost on a technicality. But in 35 years, one thing I’ve learned is that the guards and the courts and legislation alone will not solve the problems of crime.”

There are a large number of things that will contribute to a better society, including education, jobs creation and youth amenities, he explained. When Supt Boyle worked in Clondalkin, he noticed many young girls would get pregnant at a young age, get their social welfare and a house.

“That was their life,” he said, “but then Liffey Valley came and those young girls started getting jobs. They swapped the buggies for the micras. Liffey Valley gave the area an economic boost. It changed the whole dynamic. So education, jobs, work culture and resources in the community make a difference.

“If you can get jobs and get education about drugs and sex and how to treat each other, it makes a huge difference.”

Here in Longford, we have all of that, he added, bringing the conversation back to the county and what it has to offer despite the reputation it has earned through negative, national media coverage.

“We have the schools and youthreach and the LEAP project here. We have sporting organisations which play a huge role,” he said.

“I see it in Edgeworthstown and Longford Slashers and Clonguish and all the clubs here. Look at the diversity in the teams and clubs and how they’re integrating minority groups. That has a huge bearing on how the community develops. It gives them structure and pride in their jersey and their team and their locality.

“It’s not just the guards - everybody has a part to play in society. Longford has fantastic facilities. I didn’t move here with my kids from Dublin for no reason. There’s a brilliant rugby club, there’s GAA clubs, soccer, basketball, athletics, the swimming club.

“We’re a county with three people going to the Olympics. For such a small county, we’re punching way above our weight in most things that we do,” he said, referring to Darragh Greene, Gerry Quinn and Derek Burnett, who were all scheduled to fly to Tokyo. It has since been announced that Gerry Quinn will not be travelling to the Olympic Games.

“One thing Covid has taught a lot of people in Longford is what we have here - the amenities and walkways like Derrycassin, Cairn Hill, Corlea Trackway, the canal, Center Parcs, the Shannon. There’s even a boat that goes out onto Lough Ree every day now. What we have here is fantastic and there’s huge potential in this county,” he said.

“When I was growing up, Granard had a bad name but now it’s one of the best towns in Longford. It took years and years for that bad name to turn itself around.”

Turning things around requires a lot of hard work by gardaí and Supt Boyle in his Granard role has never been one to take the credit for that - an admirable leadership trait, which will undoubtedly serve the Longford district well going forward.

“I may be the superintendent but without the guards, the sergeants, the detectives, the inspectors who carry out the stopping, the searching, the going to court, getting warrants, preparing files, tracking down witnesses, getting statements, it wouldn’t happen,” he said, dismissing any suggestion that he should claim the credit.

“A large amount of work goes into preparing files. You have to read them, proofread them, make sure they’re right. The state solicitor, Mark Connellan and staff, rarely get credit for the amount of work they do. Shane Geraghty, the barrister for the state does fantastic work and barely gets any credit.

“I couldn’t take the credit for that. I’d be embarrassed to take the credit for that. I’d have no success if it wasn’t for those people and the people on the street. We have some fantastic guards here on the streets.”

Most importantly, the relationship between the gardaí and the community is as strong as ever, thanks to the hard work carried out on the beat and the crime prevention measures that are taken in Longford and the other towns around the county.

“In Granard I had a zero tolerance policy for public order. If they committed a public order offence, they were brought to court,” Supt Boyle remarked when asked what actions he plans to take in Longford.

“I might try it here but there’s the issue of discretion. Guards have had it and it has been used widely in certain circumstances. Someone might say ‘that guard gave me a second chance and I took it’. But it’s a hot potato.

“There’s a lot of members confused about whether they can use it. It has been used widely and built up a good relationship with the community. I suppose you have to be acutely aware that everyone makes mistakes - even me,” he laughed.

“But the main thing I want now is continuity - I want to continue on the good work that’s been done here. I want to work with all the people I spoke about earlier and continue that good work.

“And most importantly, I want to try and change the public perception of Longford.”

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