Television cameras, young journalists with notepads or I-Phones, and a collection of reporters with microphones outstretched in search of ‘comment’ all descended upon my community today. This wasn’t a unique occasion, I’ve seen this great migration of the media into the North Inner City on many different occasions during my 28 years living and working within this community.
Invariably, for those of us acquainted with this phenomenon, it’s not difficult to recognise the pattern that develops within these events.
A person has been killed violently. A rumour will circulate as to the identity of that individual and while there will be an incredible sense of shock, grief and sadness, there will also be an undercurrent of acceptance and little in the manner of surprise. In the days that follow, we begin to see pictures of our area on the front of newspapers and we even make the main stories of the 6.01 and the nine o’clock news. For a brief moment in time, politicians stop talking about the breaks and supports they intend to provide to ‘hard-working families’ and lower their gaze to take an interest in one of the most marginalised communities in Ireland.
The usual theme is that the government of the day are intending to get ‘tough on crime’ and as a demonstration of this initial intent, we will find Gardaì checkpoints at scatterings throughout the North Inner City. This particular tragedy has taken place in the midst of a General Election so of course, the opportunity cannot be missed for Political Party’s to also take shots at each other in our own particular brand of gang warfare. Fine Gael have labelled Sinn Fein “soft on crime” for their intention to get rid of the Special Criminal Court. Sinn Fein retaliated quickly by labelling Fine Gael as “soft on crime” due to the number of Garda Stations that have been closed during the life time of it’s government.
All the while the people of Dublin’s Inner City Communities try to reclaim normality within their lives. Since heroin or as it is more commonly referred, ‘the scourge of heroin’ first appeared here in the late 70s, the lines between poverty, crime, victim and perpetrator have become woven to such an extent, that it is almost impossible know where each began and how this all ends. In those near forty years, the people who have lived there lives in the shadow of inequality have endeavoured valiantly to confront, remove or escape the savagery that occurs in areas where poverty breaths addiction.
Many moved out of the city centre and as they did, they found that addiction was more than prepared to travel. My parents and others like them marched the very short distances to homes of neighbours they understood to be dealing in drugs. They looked these individuals in the eye and demanded they cease peddling death to their children. My dad and others like him slept in huts outside blocks of flat complexes. I held my mother’s hand or gripped the twin buggy of my younger brothers while responded to the call of ‘What do we want?’ with the defiant roar of, ‘Pushers Out!’
It was a very exciting time to be a kid in the city. At one meeting we all had to duck and run because some other kids were throwing slabs of concrete (possibly just normal rocks, maybe even egg’s now that I actually consider that nobody was killed!) from the roofs of Mary’s Mansions flats. At another march, a coffin was placed in front of the house of a drug dealer. The sense of togetherness was incredible but the drugs and the death remained constant throughout.
Social Partnership arrived in the North Inner City like a Trojan Horse. A lady named Veronica Guerin had been shot dead and there was no longer any need to march because the government had decided to listen to us now. They set up a Criminal Assets Bureau and some of the men and women who I had seen holding the megaphones had got jobs working in the community. Flat complexes were torn down and office blocks began spiralling all around us. The presence of addiction remained the one constant theme.
It’s been over twenty years since I held my mother’s hand on those marches. Almost exactly twenty years since the tragic murder of Veronica Guerin made heroin a national, as opposed to a local issue. There has been so much aesthetic altering of our landscape that it is almost impossible to believe how little change there has actually been. I’m a politician myself now. Over the last couple of days I’ve done a couple of media interviews on the recent bout of savagery that arrived in our community this week. Try as I might, I sounded absolutely no different to the other politicians who for forty years have lamented the violence that thrives on inequality and appealed for calm to be restored to the community in much the same manner than I had witnessed done countless times before. I pointed accusing fingers at government policy and I welcomed the presence of extra Gardai on the street.
In doing so I let myself, my own personal experiences and my community down. There was so much more I should have said. When Justice Minister, Frances Fitzgerald pledged E5 million euro to assist Gardaì to tackle the ‘unprecedented violence’ associated with these crimes, I perhaps should not have welcomed it so whole heartedly. What I should have said is that this five million euro would have a much greater impact if it was invested into a local early years initiative in the Inner City. I should have been far more verbose in pointing to the data that proves that societies which are most unequal are far more likely to have higher levels of violence and crime. I should have said that this five million euro would go some way to re-establishing a properly funded community development structure that could actually help combat youth unemployment and marginalisation in the Inner City.
I didn’t though. I danced to an all too familiar tune. I became the pattern. I despise the fact that there will be more opportunities for my own redemption.