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'I have no protection from gang attacking my home'

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Terrorised and helpless: Michelle Kinehan in her home in Tallaght. Photo: Tony Gavin

Terrorised and helpless: Michelle Kinehan in her home in Tallaght. Photo: Tony Gavin

Terrorised and helpless: Michelle Kinehan in her home in Tallaght. Photo: Tony Gavin

THE first time I interviewed Michelle Kinehan, a single mother being terrorised by a gang of anti-social hoodlums, operating in, but not necessarily from, the Fettercarin area of Tallaght, South Dublin, we were warned not to park outside her house, which had been completely ransacked a few days earlier.

Instead, we were advised to park at the local community centre and walk the 100 yards to Michelle's home - a precaution to ensure our car wouldn't be vandalised, as had happened to two local councillors days before.

It was just after 11am on a Friday morning. And things were quiet in Dublin 24.

We were told that we probably wouldn't see the "gang" of around 15 youths - aged in their late teens and early twenties - until midday when they generally start to gather ominously.

Inside, Michelle (35) shared her harrowing ordeal of how she, and her three young boys, aged 15, eight and six years, have been terrorised, on a regular basis, by the same gang over the last four years.

These menacing incidents include: intimidation, threats, burglary, attempted burglary, vandalism, verbal abuse and constant disrespect. All for no apparent reason, only that she is a single mother and the offenders "think they are untouchable".

When the clock struck 12, the young men slowly began to emerge.

Shortly afterwards, we walked out through Michelle's smashed front door and headed back towards the community centre, accompanied by a local councillor.

Along the way we met a group of hooded adolescents, one holding a large vice-grip. The photographer and I were advised to walk on the far side of the road.

Although I consider myself a strong, independent woman, generally confident in most situations, I was glad to be in the company of two men as the demeanour of the teens was clearly unwelcoming.

Local councillor Charlie O'Connor, who has been "a massive support" to the family, said: "They are trying to turn the area into a no-go zone by terrorising families. It's outrageous and it has to stop."

Since Michelle's house was ransacked on December 7, there has been an ongoing garda investigation. But so far, "no arrests have been made".

Last week, almost a month after the incident was first highlighted by the Sunday Independent and RTE's Joe Duffy, housing and anti-social behaviour officers from South Dublin County Council finally visited Michelle in her home.

And on this occasion, the gang in question gathered outside - a sight that "shocked" the council representatives, one of whom waited in the car.

Although the council generally doesn't respond to press queries on individual cases, it said they "are working on the issue, in this case with other relevant authorities, to bring a satisfactory resolution to the matter".

But in the meantime, two more break-in attempts were made on Michelle's house -her car was vandalised with a crowbar and her hairdressing equipment was taken.

Twenty years ago, communities, like Tallaght, were extremely active in responding to the drugs issue. There was open opposition where locals directly took on people who were selling drugs.

Anna Quigley of Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign said: "It's very different now. People don't want to respond and it's because of the levels of violence. The impact on the broader community is of silencing people, keeping their heads down and minding their own business.

Although a consistent downward trend in youth crime has been witnessed in recent years, early intervention services have been cut, the National Drugs Strategy has "hit a brick wall," and groups are calling for the reappointment of a junior minister to tackle drugs.

Despite popular misconceptions that gardai cannot deal with juvenile offenders and anti-social behaviour, legal experts have reiterated that young offenders are not beyond the reach of the law.

Dr Andrea Ryan, director of the Centre for Criminal Justice in UL said: "Ample powers are available to the police and to local authorities. The age of criminal responsibility in Ireland is 12, and the norm for prosecuting offences committed by under-18s is to hold a trial in the Children's Court".

No child under the age of 18 can be sent to an adult prison, therefore offenders between the age of 16 and 21 years, may be sent to one of Ireland's three detention centres.

Yet, despite these measures, Michelle Kinehan won't feel any safer tonight as she prepares to sleep on the couch, for the sixth week in a row, to protect her boys.

"It's no good for me, they are watching what's going on in the area but they've no interest in sorting out my situation and getting me out of here," said Michelle, who officially applied for a housing transfer last week.

"I know I'm not the only person living like this, but the good people in this community are terrified to stand up."

And as for the young gang, weeks later they are still showing "no fear whatsoever".

"There should be juvenile detention centres specifically for things like this, or if it doesn't stop with the child it should be taken to the parent because the child is their responsibility until they turn 18," said Michelle, who also fears that she will be left there on the housing list for another decade.

If an innocent family was being harassed in the American mid-west during the 1950s, it wouldn't take long for tough guys in the neighbourhood to stand up and make their presence known.

But after decades of social and legal advances, it appears that some young gangs are able to operate under an umbrella of silence. And the main reasons appear to be 'community fear' and 'culprit fearlessness'.

Sunday Independent