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Ireland the safest country in Europe, report says

WE live in Europe's safest country - despite three violent deaths which happened over the weekend.

A shooting, a stabbing and an assault in a 48-hour period might suggest Ireland's murder rate is soaring.

But not according to the latest World Health Organisation (WHO) figures, due to be released at a conference in Fife, Scotland, tomorrow.

Ireland is the least violent country in Europe, says the WHO, which compared homicide and assault rates across 27 European countries.

The Irish rate, 0.32 killings per 100,000 people, contrasted with that of Finland (1.96) and Scotland (1.75) which topped western Europe's violence blacklist.

Malta, with a rate of 0.48, was almost as peaceful as Ireland.

The WHO figures, being released at the Milestones 2007 conference this week, show that Ireland's homicide and assault rates have dropped sharply.

This is despite a study released earlier this year showing Dublin's murder rate is increasing faster than that of any other European capital city.

At the last WHO conference on violence five years ago, Ireland's murder and assault rate was recorded at 1.13 per 100,000 population.

Irish rates have dropped in each subsequent year, culminating in the low of 0.32 recorded in 2005, the last year for which Europe-wide figures are available.

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Gangster

But Fine Gael Justice spokesman Jim O'Keeffe dubbed 2006 the "year of the gangster" after 66 murders and manslaughters, including 27 gun-related incidents. The 2005 figure was 62.

The number of murders now averages more than one a week in Ireland and last night Mr O'Keeffe described the three killings at the weekend as "a grim symptom of high rates of violent crime".

He called on Justice Minister Brian Lenihan to "set out his stall" on how he intends to tackle the growing rise in violent crime.

"Fine Gael will support measures that are tough on crime and the minister can be assured of constructive opposition and a positive response to any proposals which will make law abiding citizens safer," he said.

"After such a grim and grisly 48 hours which has left decent people in local communities shocked, it is abundantly clear that without an urgent action plan to tackle violent crime, 'more of the same' is exactly what is in store," Mr O'Keeffe added.

Justice

However, Shane Kilcommins, a senior lecturer in University College Cork, said the WHO figures proved the Irish justice system had been working effectively without the proposed reforms.

"The previous justice minister (Michael McDowell) emphasised rebalancing the justice system but that rebalancing was based on single, though dramatic, gangland incidents in Dublin or Limerick," he said.

"These figures show the due process model of justice we've operated for over 100 years has operated effectively and there is a proper balance," Mr Kilcommins added.

Scotland's murder rate, the highest in the UK, is blamed on areas of high unemployment in Glasgow, where one third of Scottish murders occur. But Scotland and Finland's murder rates are still low compared to recent EU entrants from the Baltic area.

In Estonia, it is 8.85 per 100,000, while Lithuania has 8.9 and Latvia 10.37.


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