Years of neglect and cuts leave area prey to drugs and crime

Background: Croftwood Gardens residents point to neglect, writes Kitty Holland

Croftwood Gardens, Ballyfermot, Dublin, where a six-year-old boy was shot on Friday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill.

Croftwood Gardens, Ballyfermot, Dublin, where a six-year-old boy was shot on Friday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill.

Mon, Jun 16, 2014, 10:29

Croftwood Gardens, situated near Cherry Orchard Hospital in the west Dublin suburb of Ballyfermot, would be a great place to raise children were it not for the drugs, stolen cars and the guns, according to Stephen Smith, who has lived there all his life.

Looking on at the scene where, hours earlier, a six- year-old boy was shot in the neck and shoulder, he said he was “very, very relieved” his young daughter was not hurt.

About 10 children were playing out on the green in the warmth of last Friday night when the shooting took place.

“I could hear the bullet hit . . . like a silent thud. The kids all scattered roaring crying and the little lad just lay there, totally silent. He was in a state of shock but we all thought he was dead, he was just lying there silent,” Mr Smith said.

“The lad who shot him was going round in circles with his hands on his head for about 15 seconds, like: ‘What have I done?’ Then he went off, still holding the gun. Then the child’s ma came out screaming and everyone was on their phones calling 999.

“Cherry Orchard is a great place, great community, and it doesn’t deserve a bad name. It could be lovely but there’s people who come into the area with stolen cars racing them around and there’s no guards. All it would take is one guard up here in the evenings and these kinds of things just wouldn’t be happening.”

‘Nothing up here for the kids’

Agreeing with him, a neighbour, Vincent, who doesn’t want to give his surname, said: “There’s nothing up here for the kids at all. None of the lads have work. The youth services are all getting cut. The only thing is to have a pony to give them something to get up up for in the morning.”

Cherry Orchard is identified by not-for-profit organisation Pobal as a “disadvantaged” area and comes almost within the “very disadvantaged” range. The 100 households in Crofton Gardens are recorded as having a deprivation score of -19.6, where any score between -10 and -20 is “disadvantaged” and between -20 and -30 is “very disadvantaged”.

The neighbourhood, which is 66 per cent local authority housing, has a male unemployment rate of 57 per cent and a female unemployment rate of 38 per cent. Just 5.2 per cent have third-level education and 39 per cent have primary education only.

Sunniva Finlay, co-ordinator of drug project Ballyfermot Star, said there were high levels of cocaine and prescription drug abuse and “heroin is on the increase again”.

Local Fianna Fáil councillor Daithí de Róiste said additional Garda resources were needed across west Dublin.”

“We are witnessing a serious escalation of gun crime in Ballyfermot, Inchicore, Drimnagh. In addition to the countless shootings in recent weeks, gardaí are now investigating how a young child was the poor victim of such a heinous crime,” he said.

Others said additional Garda resources would not solve the root causes of gun crime.

‘Neglected for years’

People Before Profit councillor in the area Brid Smith said Cherry Orchard had been “neglected for years” and a “multiplicity of issues” needed to be addressed.

She pointed to the lack of services for young families; cuts to youth services; cuts to education and training services; cuts to mental health services; and extremely high youth unemployment.

“That is not to excuse what happened. There is no doubt what happened cannot be condoned. The vast majority are decent people who just want to get on with their lives. But there have been six years of cuts and you don’t pick all the low-hanging fruit and not expect consequences,” she said.

A spokesman for An Garda Síochána said the force had “an excellent relationship with the community in Ballyfermot”.