By Dan Buckley, Eoin English, and Jessica Casey
Armed gardaí as well as the force’s riot squad were deployed to Cork City centre last night after reports that a high-profile shop on St Patrick’s St was about to be robbed by a group of teenagers.
The Garda Public Order Unit, commonly known as the riot squad, along with a single armed support unit, were sent to patrol the streets of Cork City centre amid fears that a group of teenagers were about to go on the rampage. There were also a number of gardaí on foot patrol.
Shortly after 6 pm, a group of up to 100 teenagers with their faces covered could be seen running along St Patrick’s St after a notice was posted on Twitter by an unknown individual or group calling for a raid on JD Sports.
The message was circulated on social media advising people to gather outside McDonald’s on Winthrop St, off St Patrick’s St, at 5.30pm.
The message stated: “Dress code. You must wear all black with bally [balaclava] and gloves. You only have one minute to yam that shop. This is at your own risk. Don’t come if you can’t run.”
The message also advised “don’t come in uniform”, indicating that at least some of those involved were school students.
Shoppers in the city centre looked on as the garda units patrolled the city streets, ensuring that no rioting or robbery ensued. One eyewitness on St Patrick’s St said a group of youths had begun kicking bins and screaming.
The group dispersed once gardaí arrived, according to the eyewitness. Calm was restored to the city centre within an hour as gardaí continued to patrol the streets.
Earlier, shoppers became suspicious when large groups of youths with their faces covered began to gather in the area.
Gardaí swamped the area with several units between 6pm and 7pm before the crowd eventually dispersed.
There were no arrests, but gardaí said investigations are ongoing.
A Garda spokesman said gardaí were made aware of the potential for an incident to occur at a retail premises the street.
“Additional resources were deployed to the area to prevent any incident occurring,” a spokesman said.
“No offences have been disclosed in the area. Gardaí continue to patrol the area currently.”
Business leaders and local politicians described the incident as sinister and worrying after details of the online messages emerged.
Cork City Labour councillor John Maher called for all those involved in the suspected pre-planned incident in Cork to face the full weight of the law.
“This type of plan was chilling and sobering,” he said.
“I will be writing to the Minister for Justice and the Garda commissioner to request that special branch officers are drafted into Cork City to stamp out this type of thuggery immediately.
“We must lance this boil before any other copycat attempts are made in the city or in surround shopping centres.”
It is believed the foiled incident may have been modelled on a gang raid of a JD Store in London on Halloween night last week which is being investigated by Scotland Yard.
A gang of masked and hooded youths looted a JD Sports store in north London, grabbing handfuls of branded clothing before fleeing the scene.
The entire incident was videoed on SnapChat and shared widely.
Earlier this month, it emerged that chronic shortages of gardaí in Cork meant just two members of the force were patrolling the city centre one night.
Despite the fact that gardaí in the city are investigating three murders, the number of detectives has been almost halved.
The Garda Representative Association says the people of Cork City are not getting the policing service they deserve because they are short 125 frontline gardaí.
The association has described this situation as “farcical”, considering there is supposed to be a major push to civilianise administrative work within the force.
Limerick has 490 gardaí for a population of 166,817, or one garda per 340 people. Waterford has a population of 112,967 and 275 gardaí, meaning a ratio of one garda to 411 people.
On the other hand, the Cork City Garda Division has 576 gardaí for 246,282 people, a ratio of one garda to 427 people.