Inequality feeds culture of criminality

Thu, Jan 31, 2013, 00:00

They set up a Facebook page for Philly O’Toole after he disappeared on Monday, January 7th. He had left his home in Arklow at about 5pm that day and, according to a neighbour who lived beside his family in Fassaroe, a working class housing estate in Bray, he probably had come back to Fassaroe to visit his partner and seven-month-old son.

He was taking a chance in doing so, for he knew his life was in danger from a criminal gang.

A message was posted on the Facebook page on January 17th saying Philly’s family were appealing to anyone with any information to contact the Garda. Another message read: “If anyone seen Philly’s car parked on the Dargle Road or seen it on Monday the 7th/Tuesday 8th, please contact Philly’s family or gardaí. Any information, no matter how small, might help.”

A photograph of his BMW coupé was posted on the site. Several people posted messages: “May he find his way home”; “Bless ya all”; “Wishing Philip had a very happy birthday, may he return home soon”; “It’s heart-breaking”; and “Noah’s lantern for daddy”.

On Thursday last there was a message reading: “We are holding an organised search in Trooperstown wood on Saturday morning at 9am. Meeting in the car park. Would be grateful for as many people as possible to help out.”

Other messages gave directions. The following day: “Search for tomorrow has been cancelled. Thank you to everyone for the kind messages, support and help.”

There were more messages: “Me and J will miss you loads. You done a lot for everyone.” Another person wrote: “My heart goes out to both Philly and his family. May heaven be his bed.”

Body found

Facebook recorded 442 people liked the page on the day the page was closed down.

Philly O’Toole’s body had been found in Trooperstown wood in Rathdrum last Friday morning. He had been shot in the head.

Notice of his funeral appeared on the rip.iewebsite. It read: “Aged 33 years, to the inexpressible grief of his parents Brendan and Irene, sister Lorraine, partner Jennifer, son Noah, brother-in-law David, niece Hannah and nephew Zac. He will be sadly missed by his loving family, relatives and friends.”

His requiem Mass was held in St Peter’s Church, Little Bray, on Tuesday and he was buried in Springfield Cemetery, Killarney Road, Bray.

In a report compiled by Bray Local Task Force in 2001, it was recorded that Fassaroe was one of the most deprived areas in the country. It was designated among the Rapid areas for special regeneration.

Two years later even a Fianna Fáil councillor, Joe Behan, later a TD, was complaining about how Fassaroe had lost out. The Bray Town Development Plan 2011 to 2017 implicitly acknowledges the failure of the promised regeneration, although there were some improvements.

Fassaroe is still one of the most deprived areas in the country, with huge unemployment, a high incidence of single parenthood, early school leaving and antisocial behaviour. The phrase “antisocial behaviour” doesn’t come near capturing the scale of the frequent violence, intimidation and criminality that is a feature of the area. (I base this on the evidence of a friend who is from the area.)

Philly O’Toole got caught up in this criminality. He developed links with criminal gangs and with the Real IRA. He got involved in drug dealing and spent time in jail. Not many people who went to Gonzaga, Clongowes, Blackrock or Castleknock develop links with criminal gangs or with the Real IRA – or at least not with organisations we associate with criminal gangs.

Class issue

It is essentially a class issue, an issue arising from deprivation and extreme inequality. And part of that deprivation is a deprivation of respect, which may be the most insidious part of deprivation. A large swathe of our community feels disrespected, in large part because it is disrespected. These people feel powerless because they are powerless and some of them rebel against this via criminality, which gives to some of them a status and a sense of respect, even if it is often coerced respect.

When the media reported on Philly O’Toole’s murder, invariably it was mentioned he was “known to the gardaí”, and his conviction on drug charges and for possession of a shotgun were also mentioned.

Yes it was reported he had a seven-month-old son but the message that was conveyed about Philly O’Toole was that he was from among, in the grotesque parlance of crime journalism, the “scumbag” fraternity.

The lack of respect shown to him in life followed him to the grave. There was barely any mention of the people who loved him, who are deeply grieved by his death, of how he looked after people, and loved people in return. And how, almost certainly, it was because he loved people that he took the risk that led to his cruel death.

There was another victim last week of criminality which finds its roots in deprivation. This was Adrian Donohoe, by all accounts a fine person and a great garda, who was murdered on Friday night, probably by another criminal gang, a gang comprising people none of whom went to Gonzaga, Clongowes, Blackrock or Castleknock.

I am not saying people do not have responsibility for their own actions. I am saying that a great deal of criminality, as we understand criminality, is derived in large part from the sordid inequality we ordain to persist.

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