Sunday 25 September 2016

Timing, location and brutality make crime an election issue

Published 06/02/2016 | 02:30

'The location, and a number of the horrific and startling details, make this outrage a major political issue in the teeth of a general election campaign'
'The location, and a number of the horrific and startling details, make this outrage a major political issue in the teeth of a general election campaign'

The horror at the Regency Hotel in Dublin is not easily brushed off as a happening in a woebegone urban area which can be boxed off with some tut-tutting and talk of "what can you do?"

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It happened in a well-appointed hotel in one of Dublin's nicer suburbs, very close to the centre of the capital.

This same hotel has hosted many political meetings over the years.

In fact, in July 2011, Fine Gael chose their presidential candidate, Gay Mitchell, here at a selection convention attended by 650 delegates. The attendance included the bulk of the party's TDs and senators, senior and junior ministers and the Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

The location, and a number of the horrific and startling details, make this outrage a major political issue in the teeth of a General Election campaign. One person is dead, two are injured and dozens of men, women and children have been terrorised in broad daylight on a Friday afternoon.

Many people will rightly see this outrage as confirmation of a feeling that crime is a real threat to everyone's safety and that an under-resourced and under-staffed Garda Síochána is left at a distinct disadvantage.

In fact, as if to drive home this point, the killers were actually dressed as members of the Garda Emergency Response Unit, or ERU.

It is these same men and women of the ERU that we rely upon to face up to these brutal killers who have no respect for their fellow man or woman.

The closure of garda stations all around the country has not been matched by delivery of promised measures to increase the numbers and visibility of gardaí in vulnerable areas.

The Government has tried to dismiss the current discontent across the country about crime as "hype".

But you cannot gainsay the numbers of people who have attended public meetings across the country to speak frankly of the ordeals they had to endure at the hands of criminals. People have also spoken of their feelings of anger, powerlessness, and anxiety in the face of criminals becoming increasingly emboldened.

These feelings of anxiety about the scourge of crime are common to both urban and rural areas. The right to feel safe in one's own home and free to walk the public highway is a fundamental citizen's right. It is the Government's obligation to safeguard that right.

Once again, the spotlight falls upon Justice Minister, Frances Fitzgerald, who has promised much but presided over very slow delivery. On crime, as in many other policy areas, Ms Fitzgerald has relied upon blaming Fianna Fáil.

But the statute of limitations has run out on that one as the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition has had the last five years in power.

Granted, in 2014 the first gardaí were recruited after a ban on hiring which had lasted five years.

There are currently 550 gardaí in training and a further 600 recruits were announced in a process which began last month.

The problem here is that 762 officers left the force last year between retirements and career breaks. Overall numbers have dipped below 13,000 and since it takes at least three officers to deliver a garda on the beat, this process is running hard just to stand still.

The outgoing government parties see crime as among a series of secondary issues which very much play second fiddle to the key matter of money in the pocket.

That is an unduly smug and dangerous assumption.

Irish Independent

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