Breda O’Brien: Cutting off the supply of foot soldiers the best way to tackle gangs

For many young people raised in poverty, either numbing out through drug use, or becoming a tiny cog in the criminal machine, can seem like rational options

Moyross: Primary school children do not have any access to National Educational Psychological Services, despite the fact that the Department of Education knows that many of the children  require therapeutic interventions. Picture: Don Moloney / Press 22

Moyross: Primary school children do not have any access to National Educational Psychological Services, despite the fact that the Department of Education knows that many of the children require therapeutic interventions. Picture: Don Moloney / Press 22

 

Crime and security were not election issues until the brutal killing in the Regency Hotel in Dublin. It’s a respectable venue, and the middle classes can visualise having lunch or attending a function there. For people living in areas of deprivation, however, the recent killings are just another manifestation of the kind of violence with which they are horribly familiar. But their voices don’t count.

We can debate so-called “saturation policing” and Garda resources and no doubt they are both needed and effective for tackling hardened criminals who do not operate according to any normal moral code.

But we rarely challenge the misery that people in areas of deprivation put up with, or the fact that democracy and the institutions of the State are subverted daily in the areas where they live.

It never becomes an election issue. That’s because very few politicians either come from or live in the kind of areas where children become like wizened, toughened adults at 12.

Some people opt to move into areas of poverty, rather than talk about it from the outside. One such person is Tony O’Riordan, a Jesuit who is one of Ireland’s “turbulent priests”, that is, someone who challenges the complacency that allows so many young lives to be blighted.

Moyross

Limerick

O’Riordan told me recently about helping a group of kids prepare for Confirmation, and hearing their dreams. One wanted to be a doctor, and another a singer. These kids blossom at primary level but something happens between the ages of 12 and 15. Their dreams are knocked out of them.

O’Riordan is no stranger to controversy. A couple of years ago he suggested churches should sell their surplus gold artefacts to fund a teacher in Corpus Christi national school in Moyross.

Due to cutbacks two classes were being amalgamated, leading to 32 students in a class, more than a third higher than the recommended ratio for deprived areas.

At the time, the school’s principal, Tiernan O’Neill, told a story of a very young boy who was so out of control that he seriously injured a family member. The State was prepared to put him in a special facility at a cost of €80,000 a year.

However, the school had a project, which it struggled to fund, that involved woodworking and building rowing boats. It cost about €12,000 a year, and survived only because of private donations.

The principal advocated for the child until he was allowed to be involved in this project, and the child began to thrive. When he was assessed by an educational psychologist he was found to be in the top two percentiles in ability. He became a model student.

That little boy was lucky. But many, many others are not. And while O’Riordan acknowledges that more resources are necessary, not least to support gardaí who put their lives on the line when confronting violent criminals, he despairs at senseless decisions.

Anger

He also pointed out that an intervention such as providing a school-based educational psychological service to a child at six or seven might be the difference between a child becoming a contributing member of society, a foot soldier for drug dealers or one of their clients.

Yet such obvious deficiencies are neither a media focus nor on the agenda of the political establishment. In O’Riordan’s community, in this academic term, primary school children do not have any access to the National Educational Psychological Service, despite the fact that the Department of Education knows that many of the children of Moyross require therapeutic interventions.

It falls to people in the community to fundraise for these services and supports. Thankfully they have some supporters, such as Dalkey parish, who help them a great deal, but it is not enough.

For many young people raised in poverty, when confronted by the reality of long-term unemployment, numbing out through drug use or becoming a tiny cog in the criminal machine can seem like rational options.

The common belief is that poverty is an intractable problem. But it isn’t. Crime bosses often exhibit a twisted version of entrepreneurial skills, and considerable intelligence. Imagine if that intelligence was harnessed at an early age in positive ways. The world would be a much safer place, including for the middle classes. It need not cost a fortune, but the alternative cost in lost lives and blighted opportunity is always too high a price to pay.

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