August is so regarded as a slow news month that folks call it the “silly season.” The time of year when idiotic political statements get a prominence they wouldn’t otherwise attract.
But even this basic fact of political life cannot explain last week’s grotesque series of political pronouncements from Fine Gael claiming there is no street crime or anti-social behaviour problem and that creation of a dedicated transport police was a matter for someone other than government.
That the latter comment came from the Tánaiste – the person who expects to again become Taoiseach in about 17 weeks’ time – should send a shiver across the Fine Gael benches looking for a spine to run up.
It defies credulity that senior government figures expect people to disbelieve the evidence of their own eyes. People know we have a problem with crime on our streets and our public transport systems. It is a nonsense for any one, be they elected or appointed, to try to claim it is just an issue of “perception”.
We have seen the horrific stories on Social Media of vicious, unprovoked attacks on young people travelling on buses/trains or waiting for the Luas. But the evidence goes further and deeper than that.
Ask any clued-in public representative and they’ll confirm that they daily hear stories of many other low-level attacks and incidents. Ones where the victims, or their families, are unwilling to come forward or speak out.
People fear that our city and town centres became no-go areas during the many Covid-19 lockdowns, falling under the control of bands of young teenagers, and that the situation has not been reversed. Worse still, they fear that the criminal justice system is unwilling and/or unable to do anything about it and so a fair amount of low-level street crime and thuggery goes unreported and unrecorded.
I think that they are wrong. I believe the criminal justice system is prepared to act… but I can see why some people fear it is not. I know from the Gardaí I meet that they are serious about cracking down on the problem, but it is hard to convince folks who have been threatened and bullied on the street to report these crimes when they hear senior Fine Gael figures saying all is well, and that street crime is not a problem.
But it is a problem. However, many top Fine Gael-ers are so eager to spare their justice minister any embarrassment that they go about insisting that it’s all just a problem of perceptions.
Look at the stats, they say, to back up their claim that there is no crime problem. They claim these show that the average number of reported offences in Ireland is below the EU average.
This is true, but it is not the full story. The classification of offences varies greatly across EU countries, so the stats tend to be based on higher-level reported crimes… and, by definition, do not include unreported crimes.
Rather than wasting time and effort pretending that everything is fine, ministers should be encouraging people to report these crimes and incidents by giving the public the reassurance that the Gardai will get the resources needed to do the job.
Ministers can move quickly to do this by doing the following:
Recognise openly and without spin that the public is right to be concerned and that the Garda Commissioner is correct when he says that Garda recruitment figures set six years ago are no longer sufficient.
Next, the Cabinet should speedily give the political direction and resources required to set up a dedicated transport police, either as an integral part of An Garda Síochana or as a separate statutory agency.
Finally, where willful parental negligence can be shown to be a key factor in allowing juveniles to behave in threatening or anti-social manner, the parents of those convicted be required to pay compensation for damage or loss.
Too many of the victims of these crimes are themselves struggling and should not be left out of pocket by the irresponsibility of a handful who have wrongly imagined, for far too long that they can act with impunity.