Poverty dismissed as crime excuse


TO SAY people commit violent crimes because of poverty and unemployment is unacceptable and too simple an explanation for what is happening in Ireland at present, Dr Art O'Connor has said.

The forensic psychologist at the Central Mental Hospital in Dublin was commenting yesterday on the current spate of crimes against elderly people and women, on RTE radio's This Week.

In the same programme, Mr Pat Doyle, co ordinator of Muintir na Tire's community alert scheme, said while attacks on the elderly had dropped significantly in the last 10 years, the violence attached to them had returned.

In 1984, when the scheme was set up, there were 432 attacks on people over 65. This dropped to 118 in 1988 and 69 in 1994. Mr Doyle said this showed how communities can play a significant part in crime prevention.

"I think there is a change in the quality of crime over the last couple of years and the last year in particular," Dr O'Connor said.

"The level of violence one sees is different to what it was five or 10 years ago. Even in standard crimes like burglaries and handbag snatching, you see more and more very nasty violence."

He said the "qualitative" difference in crime was seen in the increased numbers and in the viciousness. "Elderly people are beaten up for no reason. The criminals demand money. If they do not get it they beat up the victims and if they do get the money, they beat them up very nastily and sometimes they murder them."

He said he did not know why such crimes were happening, but he could not accept the "simple" explanation that they were caused by poverty, unemployment or poor family circumstances.

"I think the idea of people being responsible for their own actions is a good starting point, rather than saying `it's society's fault'."

He said drugs might make a situation "a bit worse". "I think if a person is willing to commit a crime, he will commit more vicious crimes if he is on drugs, but that is not an excuse, it doesn't mean he is not responsible."

"I think sociological ways of looking at crime are interesting . . . But to say that the individual criminal who goes into a house in the west of Ireland, beats up an old man and kills him for his money, is doing it because of unemployment, really does not hold any water from my point of view".