Tuesday, December 09, 2008


“In Poland,” said the man on the bus, “we don’t let our children put their feet on the seats.”

An Spailpín was on the bus home, queuing for the next stop. Ahead of me, a man was talking to the driver. They knew each other. Perhaps they spoke in English in order to practise; perhaps the driver wasn’t Polish as well, but an immigrant from somewhere else. I don’t know.

“If the children are on their own, of course, they will put up their feet – it’s the natural instinct to rebel,” the man continued. “But what I can’t understand is why they do it when they are accompanied by a parent. Why don’t the parents stop them from being so selfish?”

An Spailpín has thought hard about that Polish man in the past few days since the horrific shooting of Aidan O’Kane in East Wall, Dublin, on Sunday night. An Spailpín does not attempt, of course, to draw a parallel between putting feet on bus seats and gun crime. But your correspondent is pretty damned sure that if a child has sufficient consideration to put his or her feet on the floor and leave the seat opposite open for other commuters, that child will not then collect a dozen eggs when he or she gets home and goes off with his or her friends for an evening’s hooliganism.

The bigger picture here is not this particular shooting, terrifying though it is. The issue is that there is a sub-strata of feral youth that exists outside of the society that supports them, and there is zero political will to tackle the situation. Because tackling the situation would mean a radical rethink of the way Western society has been organised since the Second World War.

In certain areas of cities, there are gangs of children hanging around outside convenience shops in the evening. Their pastime is to harass and annoy the people working in the shop. Does it ever occur to them that these shop workers are people just like themselves, trying to get by, who don’t need a depressing job made worse by this hooliganism? No, it does not. All they are into is themselves. They show exactly the same ability to empathise or look to the future as an animal.

And what can the shop security do about this? Nothing. That’s why the kids persist. Their parents don’t care. The children know they can’t be touched. What’s the point in chasing them if you can’t do anything once you catch them? What’s the point in calling the Guards? What are the Guards going to do? The Irish Times reports that Mr O’Kane contacted the Guards on Saturday night after an attempt was made to torch his car. But what were the Guards to do? What do they ever do?

There are two factors here. The first is that there is a tremendous abdication of parental responsibility. You only need a license for a dog, not a child, after all. The second is that the Guards’ hands are tied by a judicial revolving door process. If you have twenty previous convictions, what earthly difference will a twenty-first make to you? How deeply depressing is it to read in this morning’s Irish Independent that a thirteen year old being held for questioning in the Aidan O’Kane killing is out on bail, while the prime suspect, a fifteen year old, has “made several court appearances in the past?”

At some stage, unknown to ourselves as a society, we lost the big picture. At some stage the needs of the many became less important than the needs of the few. Societal order is held to ransom because nobody is willing to be judgemental; nobody is willing to say that hooligans are not victims. They are hooligans, full stop.

How unwilling are we to say that? We’re so unwilling that the only person who uses the word “hooliganism” to describe people throwing eggs at other people’s houses is myself. “Anti-social behaviour” is what hooliganism is called now – look at the story in the Irish Times again. Anti-social behaviour is turning down an invitation for after work drinks in Neary’s; throwing eggs at people’s houses, annoying shopkeepers and shooting people is criminal hooliganism, and should be punished as such.

Mr Dermot Ahern, Minister for Justice, said in the Dáil debate on the Shane Geoghegan killing that “the Government will rule nothing out which is reasonable and consistent with the rule of law in tackling these gangs head on.” Note the phrase “reasonable and consistent with the rule of law.” That phrase is a copout. That phrase allows all manner of squirming to avoid taking actions that will cut this sort of stuff off at source.

The opposition are no better. Mr Charlie Flanagan, the Fine Gael spokesman on Justice, has called for tougher sentencing on murder and possession of deadly weapons. Tougher sentencing is a marvellous idea. The only thing is that tougher sentencing means longer sentencing, which means bigger prisons and more prison officers. How are we going to pay for that? It’s fine in principle, but it helps all the old people living in Ireland who are now even more terrified of hooded youth than before not a whit. It’s nothing more than pointless hand-wringing.

If the political class want to do anything to cut down on this hooliganism, why don’t they introduce legislation – and that’s what they’re paid to do, isn’t it? Legislate? – that allows shop security, for instance, to use necessary force to defend the premises. This means that a security man can give a hooligan a shoe in the hole and not have to worry about losing his job as a result of it. Some people will claim this will lead to victimisation, and this is an example of the needs of the few outweighing the needs of the many once more. But if some guy gets a busted lip when he didn’t deserve it, it’s worth it if it allows people to do their shopping and get on with their lives in peace. Nobody every died of a busted lip.

The other common argument against a return to common sense is that these sort of measures victimise the vast majority in communities who are good and upstanding citizens. Aidan O’Kane was one such good and upstanding citizen, and Aidan O’Kane is dead today because neither he nor the police could stop hooligans from pelting his house with eggs or setting his car or his bins on fire. That’s the bottom line. It’s that simple.

In Poland, they don’t let their kids put their feet on the seats of the buses. We need to take a lesson from Poland.

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