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Crime

Going Up! Going Down!

Ireland's police force, An Garda Siochanna, have spent tens of millions installing a new centralized computer system throughout the nation. Years late and with problems reputed to include an interface so complex and cranky that many Garda simply don't bother reporting anything but the most major crimes.

Vandalism and robbery in some parts of Dublin is so common that many people don't bother reporting minor thefts - garden furniture, kids bikes left outside for a few minutes and the like.

Gang related drug-turf fights probably make up the majority of murders. These are getting more vicious as the gangs acquire more guns. My advice is don't choose drug dealing as a career path.

Rape crisis experts report that they're dealing with more victims than ever. But, fewer are reporting such crimes to the police. The same goes for minor burglaries which are common enough in the towns to not be worth notifying the Garda/Police.

All told there were more than 100,000 serious crimes reported in a recent year. That's a big number even if it does undercount some crimes. And 4,000 assaults causing harm is hardly cause for rejoicing.

Avoiding Being a Victim

I know from following court cases reported in my local papers that the vast majority of these assaults are, as they say here, "drink related".

Let me summarise years of newspaper reports. A bunch of drunken and often drugged up yobs pour out of the weekend discos. The lads have somehow managed to pour a dozen or so pints down their bellies - something upward of a gallon of alcohol. Result - mayhem. Often between friends, or two guys putting the eye on the same girl. Or, in another oft-used phrase "words were exchanged" and before you know it someone is lying on the pavement getting his head stomped. Literally.

That takes care of maybe 80pc of those assaults causing harm. The rest, including unprovoked and dementedly vicious attacks, are what make headlines.

So, Ireland is not a paradise without problems.

I do know, however, that I can walk safely around my little town of Dungarvan - population 8,000 - on dark streets without worry. And I also know that, like everywhere, there are certain big city areas best avoided after dark. After the pubs and clubs close late on Friday and Saturday nights, I don't hang out on the streets. The worst drunken drivers usually hit the road and each other between 3am and 6am on the weekends.

Following a few common sense rules makes, well, common sense.

Safe Spots

The safest spots in the nation, based on headline crimes per 1,000 of populace, are

Roscommon/Galway East - 8.27
Donegal - 8.4
Clare - 8.4
Mayo - 8.77
Cork West - 8.93
Cavan-Monaghan - 8.95

The most dangerous spots, as would be expected, are in Dublin's inner city.

Dublin - North Central - 124.00
Dublin - South Central - 97.49

After this, the trouble spots in Dublin fall off hugely.

Dublin - Eastern - 23.84
Dublin - Southern - 23.80
Dublin - Western - 23.22
Dublin - Northern - 19.64

Cork City comes next at 20.93, then Waterford/Kilkenny at 20.05. Surprisingly, considering Limerick's poor reputation as "Stab City" for a few, high profile gang feuds, Limerick scores well at 16.75. Is that because Limerick was grouped with its peaceful countryside?

The rest of the nation came in somewhere in the low teens, between Cork North's 10.09 and Carlow/Kildare's 18.23.

In short, don't live in central Dublin and your chances of being a victim of a "headline" crime are generally below 2% in Ireland. Leave the nightclubs 30 minutes early and your risk becomes significantly lower.

Murder, She Wrote

The public perception is that crime is spiralling out of control. Murders, fairly rare only four years ago, seem to be a regular occurence. In the spring of 1996 a highly regarded crime journalist, Veronica Guerin, was assassinated while stopped for a red light on the busiest highway in the nation.

One of the outcomes is that Irish bail laws, the most liberal on the planet, have been toughened. There's been a continuing jail building programme, and police task forces are targeting key criminals and their assets.

Hard Drugs and Crime

Drug use is spreading (where not?), but the drugs of choice remain alcohol and tobacco.

The police commissioned a report which attempted to quantify the nation's drug and crime problem. In 1997, there were about 4,000 habitual drug users supporting their habit by crime. These men (85% male) live mostly in Dublin and tend to be heroin addicts. The vast majority resorted to non-violent crimes - burglary and theft. This group of repeat offenders is apparently responsible for an entirely disproportionate share of such crime - about two thirds of such crimes, it has been reported.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that heroin use since 1997 has spread outside its inner city Dublin stronghold. Small towns in the midlands and some inner city areas in other large towns have seen some growth in use. But, it is not yet an epidemic.

Cocaine was totally missing from the Irish scene until the early years of the new millennium. In 2007, scientists examined sewer systems for residues of cocaine and concluded that the capital city consumed upwards of a ton of coke annually. Mercifully, crack is unheard of.

The hard drug users are generally early school leavers, living in housing estates where unemployment is the norm, and they are young - under 25, for the most part. An amazing 50% of Ireland's AIDS cases result from shared needles used for injecting drugs. In contrast, Britain reports that only 6% of their AIDS cases are related to drug-injecting.

Other Drugs

Ecstasy

In late 2003 the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has found that young Irish people are the biggest abusers of amphetamines and ecstasy in Europe. We're also fourth highest in the world.

The standard weekend amusement for the bulk of Ireland's young is to meet friends in a pub till closing time. Then, most head for a late night disco or dance club. And, it's here that Ecstasy, or E, is king. Ecstasy tablets usually contain only MDMA which roughly speaking is a special kind of amphetamine. The effect, I read, is both aphrodisiacal and energy inducing. Occasionally, someone's body chemistry or the dosage leads to massive organ failure, what one official calls "a bullet in the brain". One correspondent points out that deaths due to MDMA overdose are extremely rare compared to other drug related deaths. I'm not sure how comforted I am.

In late October 2003, undercover garda/police entered a minor club in a minor town. Two hours later, they fingered 43 young adults in a police raid. Now, multiply this one club by hundreds and hundreds throughout the island and you get some sense of the problem.

When the pubs close, there's a certain minor rowdiness evident in the departing throngs. But, when the night clubs shut their doors in the wee hours of Friday and Saturday night, and after amphetamines have entered the bloodstream, Ireland becomes awash in loud, loutish hooliganism.

This first raid, the garda promised, would be the first of many. Nope. They've concentrated resourses on the criminal gangs behind the drug. So, the scene continues essentially unchallenged. Nonetheless, the anecdotal evidence reported in the papers is that E use has cooled considerably.

Cannabis

Marijuana is widely available in Ireland in its resinous form - hashish. The importation and sale is controlled by gangs operating out of Dublin, Cork and most notoriously Limerick. Every year the Garda announce increased interdictions and confiscations, but they admit this is tip of the iceberg stuff. My own small town (population 8,000) had more than 100 Cannabis related busts in the first 10 months of 2003, which gives some indication of its ready availability. Most of these busts were of eejits smoking on the town streets or were incidental to arrests for other matters. However, one large bust involved a hash shipment estimated to be worth €250,000. Multiply these kind of statistics times the nation's total populace of 4.1 million for some idea of what's going on. In 2007, all reports agree that cannabis use remains, excuse the pun, high.

The courts are reasonably lenient wtih busts involving small amounts of hash. Fines and suspended sentences are the common punishment. However, those busted three or more times - even for small amounts - can expect to serve some jail time.

Marijuana is a notoriously pacific drug and doesn't noticeably contribute to crime in the streets. The exception are the gang deaths resulting from turf wars. And as part of the combustible mix of booze, ecstasy, tobacco and hash common to the club scene, it probably doesn't help matters.

Magic Mushrooms

It came as a surprise to most of us that fresh Magic Mushrooms were completely legal until early 2006. More than 50 shops sprang up around Ireland selling Shrooms and other head gear. Hallucinogenic mushrooms were made illegal in a rush of legislation after a lad combined his mushrooms with massive amounts of alcohol (a big, big no-no the shop owners told us on radio). He convinced himself he could fly. He couldn't.

Head Shops

A few years ago, the nation's first legal head shop opened. Selling pipes and bongs, hydroponic equipment for growing indoor "herbs" and a wide selection of legal highs the stores prospered. There were 102 head shops nationally by the time the government finally decided to do something.

In 2010 , a long list of proscribed substances were declared illegal. The controversial part was that the ban came into effect overnight. Owners had their stock confiscated and they were threatened with arrest in co-ordinated police raids within minutes of the sudden announcement of the bill.

This was government by stealth. Last time the lads acted this fast, the nation found itself lumbered with the gambling debts of its high flying bankers. Speed and law are not natural bedfellows.

One newspaper columnist predicted that the market for cocaine, cannabis, ecstasy and even heroin will probably boom as a result. In the months since the government's ban took effect, most head shops have closed. Some of the shops will no doubt remain open by selling paraphernalia and hydroponics. Clearly, though, the heady days for legal highs are over.

So How Safe is It?

Our own very personal and completely subjective small town perspective (we live near a town of 8,000 people) is that burglary and theft is a problem, but not nearly of the same major proportions as in the U.S. or even Dublin. Violent attacks are almost entirely drink related, and if you're not on the streets long after pub closing hours on a weekend, your chances of being involved in a serious incident are small.

The reality that we perceive is that you can still walk the streets of most any Irish town or city late at night without fear. As a matter of fact, many areas are more alive with people at pub closing time than during the day. It's still generally safe to let the kids have the run of the town, and you still even see unattended baby buggies outside stores.

I've picked up my college daughters late on weekend nights for years . I've yet to witness any significant loutish behavior. The main danger is that the revelers treat the streets outside the discos as sidewalks. The kids had better hope the drivers, at least, are clear headed.

A Dublin native, Dean, took exception to this assessment and wrote me: "While the facts and figures mentioned were refreshingly honest and well stated it seems strange then that the author of the article seemed almost contradictory to conclude that Ireland is a very safe place to wander around, as long as one does not venture out onto the streets after pub closing times etc, etc!

Perhaps the author should try some of Dublin's well known tourist attractions, at a normal time of day!

Like Kilmainham Jail or the Royal Hospital for example. To reach these, one must hop aboard the Number 79 Bus, on which at almost any time of day they can experience the tasteful sights of Junkies pissing, puking and bleeding all over the seats, inhale the wonderful aroma of afternoon hash or perhaps chat to some of the very scumbags who threatened or robbed them while they perused St. Stephen's Green that very same morning!

Perhaps the author should leave his quaint Ivory Tower and live in real Ireland for a while? Or are they too busy rushing around at statistically convenient safe crime intervals to avoid the large part of Irish society the rest of us have to put up with?"

My Reply to Dean: "I make no bones about the fact that I live in the Irish rural countryside. As the statistics make clear, inner city Dublin is the nation's crime hot-spot. In Currabaha where I live, the last known crime occurred in the early 1800's and that murder is STILL the talk of the place. So, I'm living in real Ireland, but a different Ireland than the urban Dublin that I love to visit for day-long business and exploration trips, but then vacate most nights.

I've spent some fair amount of DAY-time in St. Stephen's Green and even when the place is fairly empty on colder, overcast days I've never encountered any problems. Ditto the Royal Kilmainham Hospital which is the Modern Art Museum these days. I've spent many a night in hotels in central Dublin without any bother - but, then, I'm in bed usually by midnight.

The facts, I believe, are that Ireland is relatively safe as a whole. Every city has its number 79 bus that should be avoided and I can't think of many inner city places anywhere in the world where I want to be out and about after 1am.

The real problem I see with Irish crime in towns and cities is the low-level theft and vandalism that is a regular occurence. Things like my mother-in-law having to lock up her tiny sun-porch because even worthless knick-knacks get stolen, or the Dublin problem with stolen cars and break-ins, or the country problem of occasional robberies.

But, the worst of most small town crimes that I read about, and also many of the headline grabbing stuff in Dublin and Cork and the bigger cities happens when too much alcohol and drugs are combined. And these two excesses tend to happen on weekends in the wee hours of the morning. So, I don't think my advice is too far off - go home right after the pubs close and you miss the greater part of the crackin-of-heads time.

 


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