All Across the City, Community Groups Prepare for a Halloween Like No Other

Bernard Byrne always looked forward to the Halloween fireworks display in Donaghmede Park, he says.

“It was a great spectacle and we always considered it to be the final act of our festivities,” says Byrne, the chairperson of the Donaghmede Estate Residents’ Association.

The display has been running for 12 years. Until this year, that is.

Covid-19 restrictions mean that it’s been cancelled, as are dozens of Halloween events across the city. Firework displays. Festivals. Parades. Haunted houses. Concerts.

While understandable, says Byrne, he is worried that there’ll be more illegal bonfires, fireworks and anti-social behaviour instead.

“Because over the years we were […] bloody well plagued by bonfires that would take place and one particularly big one in Donaghmede park,” he says.

A Different Festival

With the usual activities gone, what’s going to fill the void?

“It will certainly be a Halloween like no other in relation to events or the non-events,” said Garda Chief Superintendent Patrick McMenamin, at last month’s citywide Joint Policing Committee meeting.

Usually, there’s extra policing needed at events, he said. But “the crowds that normally would be attending those won’t be facilitated for this year”.

Youth support groups, meanwhile, are switching up what they offer.

Lorraine McHugh, project leader with Clay Youth Project in Crumlin, says their community events aren’t going ahead. “They’re all cancelled.”

Any community outreach, outside of the centre, can’t go ahead either, she says.

Last year, youth workers brought pizzas around to some of the bonfires in the area, which McHugh says provided an important community service presence. They ran activities throughout the mid-term week, too.

This year, the project will put on activities just for those young people who use the service, she says. Not the wider community.

That could mean an increase in anti-social behaviour on the night, says McHugh.

“I’d say I’d be expecting a whole load of reports in the newspapers and on social media of things that are going to go wrong on that night but we’re powerless to do anything about it,” she says.

What they can do is try to educate young people, says McHugh.

“We call it harm reduction, where we support young people to be consciously aware of the harm that’s out there and the harm that they can cause,” she says.

That’s a similar approach to those at the Finglas Youth Resource Centre. Education and guidance is key, says Rachel Kelly, a project leader with the centre.

The Finglas Fright Night Festival — organised every year by the council with support from community groups — has been moved online with the final programme yet to be announced.

Kelly says the service is still waiting for clarification on what activities they will be allowed to hold following the announcement of Level 5 restrictions last Monday.

If the guidelines permit it, they plan to provide a “safe space” for people to drop into at their centre on Mellowes Road for food and talk with youth workers, she says.

During the week, they’ll arrange small-group activities, subject to government restrictions at the time, she says. So younger people can have some fun.

The service will also drop Halloween bags around to children in the area who are unable to go trick or treating as a result of the restrictions.

“Then hopefully on Halloween night they don’t engage in risky behaviours and if they do, maybe hopefully we’ve given them the education around what to do,” she says.

Kelly says she doesn’t think the lack of organised events will have too much of an impact on people’s behaviour on the night.

Neither does Marius McGarrell, a youth worker with Sphere 17 Regional Youth Service in Darndale, who have recently had to cancel its haunted house event.

“I’m sure the guards will be on top of that. I don’t expect there to be a lot of change for young people,” says McGarrell.

Younger children are saying they will be staying in for the night instead of going trick or treating, says McGarrell. Teenagers have been prepping through, he says.

Prepping for Halloween

Gardaí plan to be out and visible on Halloween night, says a Garda spokesperson.

There’ll be “beat, bike and mobile patrols” to help to prevent “damage to property, injury, trauma for the vulnerable and the elderly, and general loutish behaviour”, they said.

They’ve been working since 4 September under “Operation Tombola” to disrupt the sale and distribution of illegal fireworks too, said the spokesperson.

They declined to comment on how the operation was going.

The council, fire brigade and Gardaí have been working together to deal with those hoarding materials for illegal bonfires.

The council works to identify where stockpiles of wooden pallets, tyres and other materials are hoarded, says a council spokesperson.

They also encourage members of the public to alert officials to where materials are being hoarded. When identified, teams from the council remove the materials in question. Gardaí assist by providing them with protection if needed, says the spokesperson.

The spokesperson said that the council puts a comprehensive plan each year to minimise the damaging effects of bonfires in the city.

They said that in the past two years 1,000 tonnes of material, including hundreds of tyres, were identified and diverted from being burnt on illegal bonfires in the city.

Many of the traditional outdoor events held every year by the council will have online versions this Halloween. The council says the list will be announced once it is finalised.

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Author:

Cormac Fitzgerald: Cormac Fitzgerald is a freelance journalist covering community policing and safety for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach him at [email protected]

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