As we watch Britain's cities being torn apart, and the country itself entering a period of vicious social upheaval, the question we have to answer is simple and stark. Could it happen here?
The answer, equally simple and stark, is yes. Not all the ingredients that have fuelled four or five nights of destruction and death in Britain exist here -- not yet anyway.
For instance, there is evidence of an orchestrated leadership, some of it coming from the far right, in the UK riots. Race and ethnicity are undoubtedly issues, and although in recent years racism -- and a reaction to it -- has bubbled under the surface of Irish life, it has never erupted into mass violence.
But we might as well face the fact that our police, if they're not already in training for disturbances along the lines of those we've seen in London and elsewhere, should be. For years now, antisocial behaviour among young people has been on the rise in housing estates in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, and throughout Ireland.
Children as young as 10 are caught up in behaviour that puts them outside the pale night after night. The gardai are ill-equipped and under-resourced to deal with the violence they encounter.
So far, the only way they can cope is to weigh in with large numbers (and pretty direct methods, it has to be said) whenever there's a flashpoint -- and then move on after a day or two to the next flashpoint.
Every sergeant and superintendent in Dublin could list out the neighbourhoods they're most afraid of.
We built those neighbourhoods. Generally speaking, we designed and built them as ghettoes, facing inwards, cut off from the communities around them. They have three things in common with each other -- and all those things are elements in a tinder box that could easily explode.
We need to try to understand those three things -- and understanding them doesn't mean condoning the behaviour that is already damaging communities in Ireland, and that could easily get a lot worse.
The three things are poverty, drugs, and parenting that is under immense pressure.
Poverty first. There are parts of Ireland, whole neighbourhoods, that the Celtic Tiger simply passed by. I don't have to name names here -- we all know addresses that carry a stigma with them -- it's four times as hard to get a job if you come from those places. And in all the years of our prosperity, we never tried to address that. In fact in many cases we heightened the stigma by creating a kind of "drive-by poverty" -- estates that simply aren't visible as you pass them on the fine dual carriageways that are the only real legacy of the spendthrift last decade.
Drugs. There are estates that have specialist dealers -- different people who deal in hash, cocaine or heroin. They all use power, money, violence, glamour and fear to attract the kids and control neighbourhoods. These are the real scumbags, who are helping to breed a generation of youngsters who will only know a life of crime.
And parenting. You can't be honest about the problems we face in extremely disadvantaged neighbourhoods without accepting that poverty and all its stresses and strains have placed a huge strain on parents, especially those who have to parent alone.
It's easy to condemn parents under pressure -- but they didn't create the world around them, a world that all too often leaves people isolated.
Make no mistake, there are enough ingredients for some of our neighbourhoods to boil over. There are brilliant people in all these neighbourhoods, people trying to raise families and build communities against the odds. But if it erupts here as it has in Britain, we must not rush to blame. It mightn't be easy to listen to, but we have let these families down. We've all helped to add kindling to the fire.