Pubdate: Mon, 26 Jan 2009
Source: Irish Times, The (Ireland)
Copyright: 2009 The Irish Times


NOBODY IS safe in a society where drug gangs fight for control of 
lucrative markets. And the recession is likely to contribute to an 
increase in crime. But rather than respond in a knee-jerk fashion to 
demands for an increase in Garda overtime, longer prison sentences 
and more draconian legislation, we should concentrate on what can be 
done with existing resources and on how the community can be 
motivated to fight against crime. In that regard, active co-operation 
by law-abiding citizens with An Garda Siochana is one of the most 
important elements in crime prevention and detection.

Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern launched a two-year consultation 
process last week that will result in the first White Paper on crime. 
It is an important development and will seek the views of a wide 
range of interested and professional parties. After a decade of 
legislative reform and extensive investment in the criminal justice 
system, the White Paper will consider whether new and better ways may 
be available to tackle crime-related challenges. Given the breadth of 
the review, the work should be thorough. But two years of discussion 
does not reflect the urgency of the situation. It should not delay a 
Government undertaking to legalise wire-taps in the prosecution of criminals.

There has been a 25 per cent increase in drugs-related offences 
during the past year. And recent days have seen a spiral of gangland 
killings on the streets of Dublin. In spite of that, it is important 
to maintain perspective. There have been considerable Garda 
successes. Large quantities of drugs have been seized.  Gang members 
have been jailed. Intensive surveillance has led to the disruption of 
criminal activity. And public involvement has led to the arrest of 
would-be assassins.

That last development shows what can be achieved when concerned 
citizens alert the Garda about suspicious activity. That is the crux 
of the issue. Too often, local people are terrified by gang members 
and, on occasion, are forced to hide guns and drugs for them.  If 
they can be persuaded that supplying information to the Garda will 
remove such threats, a great advance will have been made. Intensive 
surveillance will be needed in those areas, including foot patrols, 
as a normalisation process. Long-term success will be based on better 
police intelligence.

Those living in leafy suburbs also have obligations.  This is where 
recreational drug-users, small-time pushers and the professionals who 
launder the illegal profits of gangland criminals live. It is, in 
effect, the heart of the problem. For so long as these individuals 
are allowed free rein, the drug gangs will flourish and death will 
stalk our streets.

If we are serious about enforcing the law and tackling the illegal 
drugs trade, we cannot close our eyes to the contributions made by 
white-collar criminals.  Locking up minor offenders would fill the 
prisons. A system of restorative justice would be a better 
alternative. But others should be jailed. It will take a deliberate 
shift in approach to alter ambivalent attitudes that have emerged in 
recent years. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake