GANGS have two essential ingredients. One is the ready supply of potential members. The other is an economic base to to start and keep things going.
This year, to date, we have had 18 gangland killings. By normal right-wing ‘hang-em and flog-em’ reasoning that’s quite a deterrent. Yet everybody thinks things are going to get worse.
The prohibition of drugs is the main engine of gang culture. The drug trafficking trade is hugely lucrative. When the State attempts to shut down the trade it makes the drugs more valuable.
A young gun rises to take over the trade in an area. He gets toppled after making enough enemies, often brutally and fatally, and he is replaced. He’s always replaced. He always will be replaced.
The tabloids talk of the ‘war on drugs’ as if there was any prospect of winning the war by putting drug traffickers out of business. That will never happen because there’s no supply-side solution to this problem.
But meanwhile the ‘war’ is enormously expensive to all concerned. The prisons are full of traffickers and mules. The streets of some working class estates are at the mercy of drug funded hoods. Entire countries, like Columbia and Afghanistan, are convulsed by narco-wars. Millions have been driven from their homes.
That’s the economy of the gangsters. The potential membership is supplied by the failure of our social democracy to address chronic poverty and exclusion.
John Lonergan, Governor of Mountjoy Jail, reckons that up to eighty per cent of his guests come from just six areas of Dublin. At the same time we’re told that in some areas of Dublin less than one per cent of children attend third level colleges. What’s the betting that these are pretty much the same areas?
The Government, and everyone else, knows that the conditions in these areas are a recipe for disaster. They decided to come up with a comprehensive solution. It’s called the RAPID scheme.
In fact, this was absolutely the dead right strategy to combat exclusion. Everyone was involved: residents, politicians, gardai, social workers, community activists, the lot. They came up with the plans needed to transform these areas.
But the Government never gave the RAPID independent funding. Therefore it never fulfiled its potential, despite much good work achieved.
The only way to combat the drugs scourge is to empower young people. This can be done by supporting communities with with more local resources so that ambition and hope replaces poverty and despair. More gardai, more playgrounds, more sports facilities.
Give local people the chance to get ahead of the hoods and take control of their areas. It’s simple really – it’s what works in middle-class areas.
In the meantime, certainly, we need the gardai to target the hoods and put them away. But if we don’t start to look at the underlying reasons why gang culture exists, and do something about it, we’re on a hiding to nothing.
We need to be, as Tony Blair might say: “Tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime.”