Tuesday, April 8, 2008

We must ask ourselves: Why is Ireland becoming more violent?

The brutal murder of two Polish nationals recently has rightly shocked the country as a whole and brought into focus yet again the growing trend of violent behaviour on our streets. The especially vicious nature of the attack - which involved one man being stabbed with a screw driver in the head and another in the throat – is particularly disturbing, as is the age of the suspected perpetrators, ranging from just 15 to 19 years of age.

Predictably, in the aftermath of this disgusting crime, various commentators have tried to explain the reasons for it, to put method to its mindless madness. The minister for justice has commented on the damaging effects of alcohol and how he intends to curtail its availability, while a lack of gardai and facilities for young people has been blamed by local politicians and residents as the root of the problem.

However we are losing sight of the core issue here; that is, how these young men were capable of such utterly extreme violence. What is the real underlining cause of such a disregard for human life that allowed teenagers - effectively children - stab two innocent men to death?

It cannot simply be alcohol or a lack of amenities, while the gardai are merely a deterrent to criminal behaviour, not shapers of moral being.

The vast majority of people would never perpetrate such a heinous act not matter how much alcohol they had consumed. Furthermore, focusing solely on the involvement of alcohol serves to almost abdicate responsibility from those involved. Let us remember that people committed this evil act, not alcohol.

As for facilities, surely young people had even less to do in the way of leisure in times past, before youth delinquency was such a rampant social cancer.

And while looking at licensing laws, amenities for young people, and garda numbers may indeed be worthy pursuits, they are easy answers for more difficult questions.

As is always the way in such cases, it is easier to legislate for an aspect of the problem rather than tackle its fundamental social cause.

So what is the cause of acts such as these? It is a difficult, multi-faceted question and one which is hard to answer, but we may speculate. Could it be poverty, the portrayal of violence in the media, or family breakdown? There is evidence to suggest that all of these factors have an influence on criminal and violent behaviour. But accepting the culpability of any of these variables forces us to revaluate the way we live and what we assume to be acceptable. They are uncomfortable explanations.

One telling comment came from an independent councillor, who said that one of the ring leaders of the gang of youths came from a “dysfunctional family”. One may wonder how many other such causes involve people from similar situations.

Organisations such as the
Iona Institute have sourced reams of evidence linking broken homes to criminal and violent behaviour, and as we all know the rates of single parenthood and divorce have sky-rocketed in the last few decades, so could we have part of our answer here?

At the very least there is a compelling case to suggest that it is a factor we cannot ignore.

The question of broken families or disadvantaged areas isn’t as clear-cut and easy to legislate for as the issue of alcohol control, or gardai numbers, but nonetheless has to be faced up to and tackled head-on, and in a way that avoids debilitating political correctness.

Uncomfortable questions need to be asked and we must not be afraid of asking them. Is it wholly desirable to have single parent homes? Don’t children need a father? Do we really care enough about poverty-stricken estates to help readjust the economic imbalance? Do we become desensitised to violence the more we see it on-screen?

I’m not sure if I know all the answers to these questions, so it would be naive and foolish to simply say that one or more of these factors were the sole root of the problem.

That been said, few in the mainstream media seem willing to evaluate their effects on society in any meaningful way. And few try and seek out what is that makes certain people act in the way they do. Yes, moods may be enhanced or aggravated, and young minds may be restless or bored; but these don’t account for a deficient conscience.

These problems must be looked at with compassion and measured criticism, but the objective truth must still be asserted without fear of upsetting the consensus. Let’s really tackle the cause of violence, even if it means raising our heads above the parapet.

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