Miriam Lord: Loquacious leaders declare war on rhetoric

Party leaders respond to the terrifying spate of gang murders in Dublin with more words

‘Taoiseach Enda Kenny launched a war on words in the Dáil on Wednesday.’ File photograph: Aidan Crawley

‘Taoiseach Enda Kenny launched a war on words in the Dáil on Wednesday.’ File photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

Anything different happen in the Dáil yesterday? Not really. Just another outbreak of war on crime, poverty, drugs and disadvantage following a terrifying spate of gangland murders in Dublin’s north inner city.

Although this time even the politicians seemed to twig that the public might not be overly enthused at the sound of this latest rallying call, with its usual promise of a full-scale, fully resourced campaign complete with boots on the ground – as many as it takes to win the battle.

So they, the party leaders, began by declaring a war on words. “We need to go beyond fine words and empower these communities” said Gerry Adams, referring to those places never described as “leafy” in the crime reports.

“I do not merely want to deal with words,” declared the Taoiseach. “I have listened with some care to the Taoiseach’s words. . . Words are not enough today,” decided Brendan Howlin.

And there weren’t enough words for Micheál Martin, who rattled on way over his time during Leaders’ Questions.

On the day after another fatal shooting in Dublin, these four veteran politicians would have been well aware that it wasn’t the first time the Dáil stood united in anger over violent criminal activity, and it wasn’t the first time a Taoiseach stood up and pledged to take decisive action, and it wasn’t the first time party leaders stood and expressed solidarity with the people who live where criminal gangs flourish. Or the second, or third.

Which probably goes a good way towards explaining why many residents in these areas do not have a lot of faith in politicians and their well-meaning promises which tend to melt away when a more pressing controversy comes along.

But the Taoiseach certainly sounded very sincere and determined yesterday when he promised action to tackle the criminal overlords who are visiting fear, addiction and death on communities poorly equipped to resist them.

“The response now on the street is to assure people that, despite the murderous activities and attempted killings, the Government and all of us as representatives stand with these communities,” said Kenny, echoing the sentiments of all the party leaders who now stand with the people who live in the flats on Cumberland Street, where Monday’s killing happened, and the people who live in that small piece of the city on the edge of O’Connell Street and around Sherriff Street, Seán McDermott Street and Summerhill.

Community projects

They have seen funding for community projects and education programmes cut. Drug-treatment schemes have been slashed. They live beside in the shadow of the glittering IFSC, but get precious little dividend from that monument to Mammon on their doorstep.

But Kenny was adamant. It wouldn’t only be words this time. “I do not just say that; I will prove it,” he promised.

“We will engage with them, hear their views, anxieties and concerns and deliver on them. In the immediate, medium and longer term, let me assure everybody in the House that we will follow through diligently these actions.

“Really and truly I hope to make progress by meeting with the community leadership and giving the Garda the resources and facilities to do its job in dealing with gangland crime.”

Although apparently the top brass in An Garda Síochána are happy enough with their lot, but maybe that’s just words.

“They tell me they have what they need,” the Taoiseach informed the Dáil, oblivious to the fact that spokespeople for the Garda representative bodies were already forming orderly queues at microphones to say how they haven’t the money, the facilities, the proper training or enough manpower to carry out their duties to the full.

But the good news is that now Kenny’s Government has saved us from economic catastrophe, the way is now clear for him to fight crime and the causes of crime.

“Believe me,” he told Micheál Martin, “the State and the Government will not lie down in front of this intimidation.”

The previous government had been so engrossed in hauling the nation away from the edge of a financial abyss it had failed to see all the people sliding deeper into an abyss of disadvantage. But there’s a few bob about now.

“The first period of the last government was spent dealing with an unprecedented economic catastrophe. We have now moved to a different place. We need to have the resources to invest in communities and people,” announced Kenny.

“We have a position whereby the economy is in a position to deliver better than before.”

The Sinn Féin leader wanted more than “fine words”. He recalled taking part in a public vigil against crime in the inner city with his deputy leader and Dublin Central TD, Mary Lou McDonald.

Will the Government commit now to increased funding and an integrated plan for the social, economic, educational and community development of the north inner city?

After Kenny does his fact-finding visit to Dublin central with Maureen O’Sullivan, perhaps Adams could take him on a tour of another very disadvantaged area – the Sinn Féin stronghold of West Belfast where he was first elected to Westminster an MP in 1983 – to show him what can (or can’t) be achieved.

Brendan Howlin, meanwhile, was also standing with the people of Cumberland Street and the surrounding area.

“It is our common analysis that crimes and feuds like this do not exist in a vacuum.

“There are criminal gangs based in our city and country, and some based offshore, who thrive like parasites on the deprivation and desperation of communities like this. Words are not enough today,” he said.

Then he patted the Labour Party on the back for bringing in the Criminal Assets Bureau. He said an intelligent and effective policing response was needed.

“It worked in the past in Limerick and other places when there was solidarity across this House, in the mid-1990s when Ruairí Quinn brought in the Criminal Assets Bureau legislation. We were determined to do whatever was necessary,” he reminded the media, sorry, Dáil.

Social disadvantage

His former Labour colleague Róisín Shortall, now a Social Democrat TD, was quick off the mark. “What were you doing for the last five years?” she demanded.

Taking out the violin to strike up a familiar refrain, Howlin replied: “We were trying to pick up the pieces of a broken country.”

“Your government cut social welfare payments” snapped Shortall.

“That you walked away from,” the Labour leader shot back.

Meanwhile, Kenny confirmed to him that an “action-based national strategy to deal with drugs” was on the way and local drugs task forces would be consulted.

“You tried to close them down three years ago” harrumphed Shortall. And there will be a task force. And words. Lots of words.