Monday 24 June 2019

Terrorised communities need our help... and less apathy from residents of leafy suburbs

Gardaí at the scene of the murder of Gareth Hutch in inner-city Dublin last Tuesday Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
Gardaí at the scene of the murder of Gareth Hutch in inner-city Dublin last Tuesday Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
Martina Devlin

Martina Devlin

When teams of hitmen carry out public executions, it's clear that gangland crime is a problem for everybody in Irish life, rather than for the inner-city communities being terrorised by it.

Organised crime threatens all of us because it challenges our values and sneers at our aspirations. Those killers are attacking society at large: we stand idly by at our peril.

Seven people dead in gang shootings in recent months, with an eighth likely to happen next week, next month - soon. This is an escalating law and order crisis, yet our leaders wring their hands and moan: "What can we do?" Or words to that effect. That's reason enough for alarm, but another is the level of public indifference to the deaths.

It's as if people are waiting for the killing to spin out to the broader community before giving it their full attention. The shootings are happening at a remove from the leafy suburbs, lending them a distance that has nothing to do with geography. That death tally would never be allowed to mount so relentlessly if the hits were taking place in the dignified redbricks.

The criminals are intent on cheapening life. And by our apathy, we allow them to devalue it. Have we become desensitised to death? We can't shrug off murder on a 'reap as you sow' basis. Nobody can be allowed to set themselves up as judge, jury and executioner.

Consider the communities in which gangs are embedded; reflect on the intimidation and violence that must be a constant element of life for them. By our apathy, we fail those neighbourhoods.

It's not as if the decent people in these inner-city areas have any choice about who lives next door. But we have allowed generational crime gangs to flourish - to take over parts of Dublin and impose their will on the community.

What must it be like for parents there, trying to keep their children out of the gangsters' snares? Those strutting hard men, crime proceeds spilling from their pockets, are role models to young people in deprived areas where options are limited.

The disconnect is all too apparent. 'Them-and-us' has entered the fray. And I don't mean criminals versus the rest of Irish life, but the affluent districts versus the no-go areas. We need to recognise that criminality is not a problem for specific communities in Dublin's north inner city - it is a problem for Irish society in general.

Tackling it should be a priority. Shrugging it off condemns our neighbours to days and nights of menace and isolation. Remember, too, the gangs may one day move into other districts - even yours.

Meanwhile, the hit squads are ruthless; they don't care about violence seeping into the broader community. They'll chase their targets through school grounds, shopping centres and car parks.

The prospect of others being caught in crossfire won't deter them, nor will the possibility of shooting down someone in a case of mistaken identity. That's just collateral damage to them.

They have access to lethal weapons: submachine guns, semi-automatic pistols and assault rifles smuggled across our borders. International co-operation needs to be called on to stop this trafficking.

Drugs lie at the heart of their wealth but the gangs also generate huge profits from human trafficking, tobacco and fuel smuggling. The gardaí have the will to take them on, but not the resources, nor the skills, nor the training opportunities.

Clearly, investment in 21st-century policing is essential - Enda Kenny, Frances Fitzgerald and Nóirín O'Sullivan are talking nonsense when they claim the gardaí are well resourced. If they were, the criminals wouldn't be running rings round them.

Incidentally, the gardaí would be performing at a higher level if the Commissioner's time wasn't taken up with explaining, apologising and promising improvements.

This week, the Police Authority expressed its "deep unease" at the management culture of An Garda Síochána. The gardaí would also have a fighting chance if morale wasn't so low - no wonder the criminals display such a nonchalant attitude towards law-enforcers. But it's not just the gardaí, the criminals are dismissive of the courts and jail time too.

Policing alone is not a solution, but it matters. A visible garda presence to deter criminality is essential, which means car and foot patrols.

Communities deserve reassurance that they aren't left alone at the criminals' mercy. Zero tolerance for anti-social behaviour and delinquency should be imposed because they can be springboards for other criminality.

In tandem with establishing public order beyond doubt, additional investment in education, job creation, housing and community engagement is required.

Interventions which provide alternatives to marginalised young men who drift toward gangland are in everyone's best interests.

As a society, we have to rid ourselves of the notion that some people are born into a life of crime - instead, let's offer people options.

Researchers report that a life of violence is more likely if you are male, from a lower socio-economic group, have a poor relationship with your parents, patchy school attendance and an involvement in delinquency and drug use. So, target those areas.

And learn from others. The UK has developed a national policy to combat organised crime, 'Ending Gang and Youth Violence', which could be adapted to tackle Ireland's gangland. The Government knows about this highly effective strategy because it was outlined in detail to the Oireachtas justice committee less than two years ago.

During its submission to the all-party group, the Association for Criminal Justice Research and Development also urged a national approach in collaboration with the gardaí, community groups, voluntary and public bodies and government departments.

It told how offenders both within the community and prison are tracked. How information between various agencies is shared. How early warning signs to identify criminal activities are developed. How educational and social programmes to foster inclusion are progressed.

All of them are tools to reduce gangland activity. Prison is insufficient to reduce crime - it's not deterrent enough.

Sapere aude, Enda - dare to be wise. There are no quick-fix solutions but ways of counteracting gangland are available provided the will is there. What could be more important than life and death?

Irish Independent

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