The fall of snow, gone from roads and pavements by lunchtime, seems to have been sufficient to have closed a local secondary school. A group of male adolescents clustered near the traffic lights, snowballing passing cars and lorries: a twenty-something man stopped to remonstrate with them and met a volley of abuse; a woman in a little red Nissan, who stopped, met obscenities and close range snowball hits on her car. What was to be done?
Call the Guards? What would they be able to do? Nothing.
Nobody ever does anything.
The graffiti goes unchecked, despite a minor clause in a criminal justice bill prohibiting the sale of aerosol to persons under the age of twenty-one being all that is necessary to prevent most defacement of the city.
The criminal damage is accepted as routine. The shiny glass and steel bridge at the DART station is slowly becoming plywood and steel as panel after panel of glass is kicked out.
The broken bottles and the fast food wrappers and the vomit on city pavements have become part of the landscape.
“It happens in every country”, I was told.
Well, no, actually, it doesn’t.
In France, the petty vandalism that is rife here is entirely absent from provincial towns and villages; affluent Parisian suburbs are spared the spray painting that scars south Dublin; the city centre is free of the intimidation of gatherings of drunken youths. It would be hard to imagine the Gardiens de la Paix quietly accepting the behaviour encountered by the Garda Siochana
Vancouver in British Columbia is bigger than Dublin: the 2.1 million people in Metro Vancouver well exceeding the 1.6 million people in the Greater Dublin area. The Canadians simply would not tolerate what Irish people accept as commonplace. We borrowed a car in Vancouver on one occasion and went to visit part of the city in the evening. Stopping at parking meters, we realised that the street was not the most salubrious and decided to change our plans. Our friends looked mystified when we explained that we had not gone where we had planned. “What was the problem? Those guys wouldn’t have touched the car”. Such assurance could not have been offered here – having had a wing mirror kicked off the car parked at the station one evening last summer.
It would be hard to calculate how much money is spent in the city simply fixing things that never needed to be broken in the first place
What’s the problem?
It’s not poverty: Ireland has been through boom times and this morning’s gang wore label hoodies.
It’s not alienation: this is one of the most monolithic societies in Europe, this is not some minority group who feel they have no stake.
Maybe it’s simply young male aggression and, maybe, at a time when the country is broke, it is an indulgence that can no longer be afforded.