Why prosperity, and not poverty, increases crime in Ireland

Crimes linked to the consumption of alcohol and drugs increase as economy improves

When the economy went off a cliff in 2008 a curious thing happened; most of the Republic’s crime rates began to drop.

Many would have expected crime rates to increase in times of deep recession as more people became desperate for money and because it is assumed a lot of crime results from poverty.

However, in the years that followed the economic collapse, a wide range of public order crimes decreased as well as drug crime, gun crime and many other offences.

Why was this? The answer now, as the economy has recovered , seems clearer than ever; people had far less money for drink and drugs during the recession and so crimes linked to the consumption of alcohol and drugs plummeted.


Public order crime, criminal damage and drug crime – three of the busiest areas for policing all over the world – halved in the years after the dire economic crisis.

Even gun crime, most of which in the State arises from the enforcement of debt collection and punishment in the drugs trade, also halved in line with drugs offences.

And now that the economy has improved, it is no surprise that trends are rising across many crime types; drug crime up by 16.5 per cent in the past year, public order up by four per cent, weapons offences including gun crime up seven per cent.

All of these increases have been recorded in CSO crime data for the 12 months to June 30th released on Friday. Garda management said crimes against the person were up by 16 per cent so far this year.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said he did not believe the assault trends in the Republic were any different than trends in other European countries. And he cites one reason; increased prosperity fuelling alcohol and drug consumption which, he says, drives crime rates.

“There does seem to be a connection between prosperity and street assaults and night time economy-type offences; the consumption of illegal drugs and regrettably then people also being killed and seriously injured on the roads,” he said.

"That disposable income does feed into a lot of the demand [to combat crimes] that we would have. And that does seem to be a feature across Europe. "

While sexual offences are also up, they almost always buck the trends, but there are complex reasons for that. Traditionally most sex crimes are not reported; victims not coming forward out of fear, because they think they will not be believed or taken seriously.

Others sex crime victims believe the offences will never be solved and their attackers never brought to justice even if they come forward. There is evidence this is beginning to change in the #MeToo era and that more and more victims of sexual offences are willing to report the crimes.

However, the situation is complex and it has always been difficult to establish the real rate of sex crimes and the influence of changing cultures on the numbers of sex crimes being committed.