Selling papers can be murder

Scaring people about crime is a surefire way of shifting newspapers. People love it. They love the drama, the love the characters, they love the thrill up the spine.

Crime books sell by the million. Serial killers are particularly popular, the more macabre the better. I used to read Patricia Cornwell books myself until I couldn’t take another body dissection. I had a brutality overload.

There will soon be a CSI Dublin – seeing as every city in the western hemisphere will have to have one. Old murders are rehashed, whodunnits abound and a new detective hero (usually flawed to add grit) is born every month.

All this fascination with murder doesn’t extend to the victims and their families who have to live with the devastation for the rest of their days. 

Fortunately, and this is breaking news to the newspaper industry, we in Ireland don’t have much murder. Contrary to reports that murder here is ‘soaring’ and out of control we have a very low murder rate.

There were 60 murders (including manslaughter) in the Republic last year. This, according to the Sunday Tribune is the highest number of homicides since the end of the civil war here in 1923.

There’s no doubt that Irish murder rates have been increasing. But the increase has been slow and is still remarkably low by international standards.

In a survey of 62 countries on across the world Ireland came in at 55. Countries with worse murder rates include: the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Canada, Spain, Australia, New Zealand. Only a handful of countries like Saudi Arabia, Japan and Greece had lower murder rates.

This survey was taken around 2000 and our rate has worsened since then. Gangland killing accounted for 19 of the 60 killings last year. Upsurges in such killings are usually followed by a lull because of garda action or because the principals are no longer around.

So, for example, there was 45 killings in 2004 which was part of  a decline from a high of 59 in 2002 and 52 in 2003. In the way of statistics the murder rate was actually lower last year than in 2002 because the population has expanded.

Another factor is immigration. Migrant communities tend to have a higher murder rate than settled communities and this is probably borne out in the fact that 11 of the 60 homicide victims last year were non-nationals.

Traditionally also, Dublin contributes about half of Ireland’s crime statistics. Last year there were 26 murders in the capital, but we had a terrible year for gangland killings. Even so, Dublin has a very low homicide rate, roughly 24 per million. Over in Glasgow the rate is 55 per million. Figures for other cities are: New York, 168; Los Angeles, 228; Belfast, 44; London, 21; Amsterdam, 77; Washington DC, 693.

So read the papers with a wary eye. Murder here is not commonplace and the gardai do a good job of catching the perpetrators. But no matter, scaring people is profitable.