Tuesday 20 August 2019

Andrew Phelan: They wake up with a charge sheet to help piece together what happened

The Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin
The Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin
Andrew Phelan

Andrew Phelan

Dublin District Court, 10.30am. The morning after the night before. Far too often, for far too many people, this is where a night out in the capital ends.

Men and women line the benches, waiting to be called. What they have in common are the charge sheets in their back pockets and the threat of a criminal record hanging over their heads.

The same thing has often brought them here - alcohol-fuelled bad behaviour on the city's streets.

On a typical busy weekend, most of those arrested are granted bail at the Garda station they were taken to and given a date for court.

Some wake up the next morning with only their charge sheet to help them piece together what has happened to them.

Nervous-looking, well-dressed young people - mostly men - are a frequent sight in the crowded courtroom.

Their stories are usually the same: a college or work celebration that ended in a drunken row or confrontation with the gardaí.

Many are first-time offenders and can avoid convictions depending on the view of the sitting judge.

Sometimes, money can make a difference; clever mitigation provided by a lawyer or an offer of a donation to charity can leave a defendant with a clean record.

Many will never set foot in court again, lessons apparently learned. However, there seems to be no shortage of people to follow in their footsteps.

At the other end of the social spectrum are the serial offenders who can amass literally hundreds of convictions in a surprisingly short time.

Mostly homeless street drinkers, some are already the worse for wear before their cases are called.

While undoubtedly tragic cases, these repeat offenders are also an ongoing challenge to law enforcement and, with free legal aid, a major financial drain on the taxpayer. The bulk of arrests seem to be made in the same areas - Temple Bar, the nightclub quarter around Harcourt Street, the quays, the O'Connell Street area and the Luas red line stops.

Whatever trends the statistics may show from year to year, the constant stream of public order crimes coming before Dublin District Court suggests this is a problem that is still far from being solved.


Irish Independent

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