Communities living in fear of eight-year-old gang members, forum told
Mothers bringing sons to be shot by appointment, Police Authority hears
During the forum the Policing Authority was asked: ‘where is Tusla, where is the county council, where is the responsibility of parents?’ Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
Policy makers need to understand the fear of living in a community where you could be stabbed or shot at any time, a Policing Authority forum on community safety has heard.
Rita Fagan, director of the Family Resource Centre at St Michael’s Estate, Inchicore, Dublin, has lived in the area for more then 30 years and remembers her mother standing up to gangs.
She said that on occasion her mother threw buckets of water over a drug dealer in the stairwell but that members of the community would not do so now as they are more afraid.
Ms Fagan said people were afraid of children as young as eight who are members of gangs, which could have you stabbed at any time.
Speaking at the authority’s Conversation on Community Safety Oversight on Thursday, Ms Fagan read a letter from an inner-city resident who recounted how he was constantly intimidated by gangs of “mainly” males aged between eight and 18 years.
The letter detailed how the man had come across a family being stoned by the youths. The patriarch of the family responded by picking a baby up from a pram and running for safety, leaving a woman and a child behind.
The incident happened about 5.45pm as the resident was walking to his home in a nearby flats complex.
The letter stated that he tried to support the mother, but she believed he was one of the attackers. The man took a mobile phone from his pocket and tried to record the youths, who responded by chasing him through the complex.
The letter stated that he fled in fear, found a hiding place and called the Garda at about 6pm. Ms Fagan said the letter claimed that the Garda did not arrive until after 10 pm, some four hours later, and the force’s response was to tell the resident that he had acted illegally in filming the youths.
Ms Fagan said the youths were terrorising the community and the letter-writer was asking “where is Tusla, where is the county council, where is the responsibility of parents?”
The forum also heard from Prof Duncan Morrow, professor of politics and director of community engagement at Ulster University, who said in some parts of the North gangs controlled the population to the point that a mother delivered her own son to be shot.
Prof Morrow said the alternative was that her son would be caught and shot a number of times.
“Her response to that was to get her son filled up with “yellows” [which are drugs with pain killing properties] and to take him along to be shot,” he said.
During a question and answer session, Ms Fagan said “the police” were viewed by gang members as being the local authority, the estate’s management, Tusla and Garda community policing officers, among others.
She said the problems such as poverty, austerity and mismanagement by policy makers had made the situation much worse in the past 10 years with “the police” now described as rats.
She said she was known as “Fagan the rat” and that “policy makers need to know what it is like to live in a community where you can get stabbed at any time” or be shot by feuding gangs.
Ms Fagan said communities needed “police” – community workers, council officials and gardaí – who wanted to be there, not those who were there because it was their job or who were on their way to being made detectives, she said.
But Ms Fagan also told the forum the policy of austerity that followed the economic crash had done tremendous damage, closing 165 community development projects.
She said young people were being groomed by gangs and if a child in poverty was given €25 to take a drug package “from there to here, of course they are going to take it”.
Dermot O’Brien a youth worker form Co Wicklow, told the forum more than a third of the population was now under the age of 25 years. He said these were the first generation of “austerity children” and were “punishing society for telling them they were not worthy of resources”.
In response, he said, these young people were demonised as “feral children” and calls were made for tougher jails and harsher sentences. However, he said any solution to community safety issues required young people to be “co-architects”.
He said in some cases, including in Wicklow, the young people were co-architects of community safety plans and these schemes could be seen to be working.