August is so considered a slow news month that people call it the “summer slump.” It’s that time of year when idiotic political statements acquire a prominence they otherwise wouldn’t attract.
But not even this basic fact of political life can explain Fine Gael’s grotesque series of political statements last week claiming that there is no problem with street crime or anti-social behavior and that the creation of its own transport police force is a matter for anyone other than the government .
That the latter comment came from the Tánaiste – the person expecting to become Taoiseach again in about 17 weeks – should send a shiver down the Fine Gael benches looking for a backbone to boot. It defies credulity that high-level government officials expect people not to believe the evidence in their own eyes. People know that we have a problem with crime on our streets and on our public transport systems. It is nonsense for anyone, elected or appointed, to try to claim that it is just a matter of “perception”.
We have seen the horrific stories on social media of vicious unprovoked attacks on young people waiting on buses/train journeys or for the Luas. But the evidence goes further and deeper.
Ask any insider public official and they will confirm that they hear stories of many other low-level attacks and incidents on a daily basis. Those where the victims or their families are unwilling to come forward or comment.
People fear that during the many Covid-19 lockdowns, our cities and inner cities have become no-go areas, have fallen under the control of gangs of young teenagers and that the situation has not changed.
Worse, they fear that the criminal justice system is unwilling and/or unable to do anything about it, and as a result a fair amount of street crime and low-level brawling goes unreported.
I think they are wrong. I believe the criminal justice system is ready to act… but I can understand why some people fear it is not. I know from the Gardaí I meet that they are serious about the problem, but it’s hard to persuade people who have been threatened and bullied on the street to report these crimes when they say senior Fine Gael officials hear that everything is fine. and that street crime is not a problem.
It is a problem. However, many top fine Gaelers are so keen to avoid embarrassing their Minister of Justice that they insist it is all a matter of perception. Look at the statistics, they say, to support their claim that there is no crime problem. They claim this shows that the average number of reported crimes in Ireland is below the EU average.
That’s true, but it’s not the whole story. The classification of crime varies widely across EU countries, so statistics are usually based on higher-level reported crimes and include unreported crimes by definition.
Rather than wasting time and effort pretending everything is fine, ministers should encourage people to report these crimes and incidents, giving the public reassurance that An Garda Síochána has the resources needed to do the job is obtained.
Ministers can do this quickly by doing the following.
First, openly and without spin, acknowledge that the public is right to be concerned and that the Garda Commissioner is right when he says that Garda’s recruitment figures, set six years ago, are no longer sufficient.
Next, the cabinet should quickly provide the political direction and resources needed to set up a dedicated transport police, either as an integral part of An Garda Síochána or as a separate statutory authority.
Finally, if willful parental negligence can be shown to be a key factor in young people engaging in threatening or antisocial behavior, the parents of the convict should be compensated for any damage or loss.
Too many of the victims of these crimes have struggles of their own and should not be left out of pocket by the irresponsibility of a handful who have for far too long mistakenly imagined they could act with impunity.
Willie O’Dea is a Fianna Fáil TD for Limerick City.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/street-smarts-lacking-as-fine-gael-takes-silly-season-to-new-low-41925754.html Street Smarts are absent as Fine Gael takes the summer lull to a new low