Getting away with intimidation

11th July 2001

A COUPLE of weeks back we carried a story in one of our papers about a single woman in the Blanchardstown area who has to leave her home because of a continuing campaign of harrassment from local thugs.

She had her house vandalised on numerous occasions and had excrement smeared on her door at one point.

She lives alone with her two children aged 8 and 10.

Last week it was reported in The Echo that a Serbian man has had to leave his house in Tallaght after a similar campaign. He has five children.

I could go on to the end of the column with stories like these. The problem for newspapers is that they are so common that they are no longer newsworthy.

A total of 374 complaints were made to Fingal County Council about this sort of behaviour on its estates last year and another 87 in the first three months of this year.

And that doesn’t include private estates or apartments. It doesn’t include the people who say nothing and hope it goes away or who fear that complaining will only bring the wrath of their tormentors down with even greater ferocity upon them. It doesn’t include the other 80 per cent of the people of County Dublin.

Of all the things it doesn’t quantify – it doesn’t quantify the fear.

Imagine what that woman in Blanchardstown must feel as she puts her children to bed, never knowing when the next brick will arrive throught the front window. What does she feel when the water pipes creak?

Outside her attackers have the run of the street; they can decide when to strike.

I’m told by people working in the community that this case is very common. That single mothers often come in for this treatment. That they make the best sport.

The cowardice and inhumanity of the people who carry out these attacks is difficult to comprehend.

Natural justice would demand that they be caught and flailed to within an inch of their lives. I’ll come back to that later.

First things first.

It ought to be a founding guarantee of this republic that nobody should be intimidated out of their home.

When the Beit paintings were stolen from Russborough House the gardai scrambled squad cars and helicoptors, mounted a huge search operation and appointed an investigation team to track down the culprits. Quite right too. You can’t let armed robbers get away with that or there would be anarchy.

But stealing a couple of paintings comes nowhere as high on the scale of crime as terrorising people out of their homes. Yet the State doesn’t seem to be exercised by the problem at all.

So what should we do?

The worst thing that could happen is for the guards to go in mob handed and clatter all around them (howerver satisfying that might be, as I was suggesting earlier). The last thing we need is mass arrests of young people on estates.

Intstead we need to think about why the attacks occur. I’ll bet that none of them is carried out by individuals. They are carried out by young people in gangs of varying size who egg each other on.

Each case should have a team appointed to combat the intimidation. The gang will have members of varying committment, from ring-leaders to hangers-on.

The team, which should be led by a detective, would gather intelligence on the gang, how the network of friends operate and how things get out of hand. With help from community workers, parents, corporation officials and teachers it should be possible to break up the gang or limit the damage.

To some extent this is already happening but on an informal basis. What it needs is direction and resources. Particularly resources.

But the prize would be well worth it. One group of teenagers running wild can do an enormous amount of damage and cause untold misery.

And people who are isolated, vulnerable and suffering would have somewhere to turn to, which is their fundamental right.

As well as that…

Zero tolerance – missing the point

Oddly for a leftist, I am completely in favour of the Zero Tolerance philosophy. This is the idea that if you let things get out of hand slippery slopism takes over and the quality of life is degraded.

To those on the right like our own Justice Minister, John O’Donohue, this means building as many prisons as possible and filling them up ASAP.

In fact, Zero Tolerance is about the social environment. It is about the State’s diligence in its role in society and the support it gives to the community. Most of all, it is about prevention rather than cure.

In this model it is much better to stop the crime beforehand. Better for the victim, better for the culprit, better for the tax payer.

It is fundamentally about reversing the traditional economies of scale when it comes to supporting the community. Small is beautiful.

Our John would be better spending the money on estate management to ensure citizens are in control of their areas. Better spending money removing graffiti as soon as it appears and removing burnt-out cars as soon as possible. Better improving the environment in areas where anti-social behaviour is endemic.

In other words, better using common sense.