Nine incidents in two weeks — It’s time to crackdown hard on knife crime in Ireland
Cllr Anthony Flynn was in his home in East Wall, Dublin, last Tuesday night when a member of his staff came in to tell him there had been a serious incident nearby.© Provided by Extra.ie
He threw on his coat and followed the flashing blue lights to arrive at the scene of a brutal stabbing incident. Two teenagers were taken to hospital after they apparently tried to intervene in an argument involving a delivery driver and a local man.
One of the 16-year-olds died soon after of his injuries. The other is recovering at home. George Gonzaga Bento, a 35-year-old delivery driver, has since been charged with murder.© Provided by Extra.ie Cllr Flynn was called to the scene where Gardai were already in attendace of a fatal stabbing incident that occurred on East Wall Road, Dublin. Photograph: Leah Farrell / RollingNews.ie
Unfortunately, it’s a scene that has greeted residents of inner city Dublin far too frequently of late. On Wednesday, 48-year-old Urantsetseg Tserendorj died after she’d been stabbed in an alleged assault and attempted robbery near Custom House Quay on January 20.
The mother-of-two was originally from Mongolia but had lived in Ireland for several years and was on her way to meet her husband after finishing work when she was attacked. A 15-year-old has been charged in relation to the alleged assault and attempted robbery but may now face further charges.
In a separate incident in the area last week, a doctor in his 30s was stabbed a number of times in the neck and stomach in what’s believed to have been an attempt to steal his scooter at Seville Place, also in the north inner city.
In total, there have been nine incidents of knife crime in the area over the past two weeks.© Provided by Extra.ie Earlier in the year 48-year-old Urantsetseg Tserendorj died after she’d been stabbed in an alleged assault and attempted robbery near Custom House Quay. Pic: Gareth Chaney/Collins
For Cllr Flynn, it’s been a trying couple of weeks. He, along with a number of other politicians in the area, has been spearheading a campaign to reduce knife crime. In fact, just hours before the fracas which resulted in the teenager’s death, he’d brought up the issue with Garda superintendent Anne Marie Cagney, assistant commissioner for the Dublin Metropolitan Region, at the Dublin City Joint Policing Committee.
It’s a subject that is obviously very close to his heart and on which he believes more needs to be done.
‘We haven’t been quite serious enough on knife crime in society over the last number of years,’ he says. ‘In terms of legislation and ensuring those that are convicted of any knife crime are issued with the appropriate sentencing is something that hasn’t been staunch enough over the last number of years.
‘The rise in our area in particular has been through the lockdown period. Last year in Dublin overall, we saw a 5% increase in knife crime activity, that was revealed at the Dublin City Joint Policing Committee last week.
‘At that meeting, I did ask assistant commissioner Cagney would she ensue an anti-knife crime campaign and since then there’s been six incidents within our district.© Provided by Extra.ie Cllr Flynn says ‘We haven’t been quite serious enough on knife crime in society over the last number of years.’ Pic Collins
‘We’re in a position where we’re seeing continuous rises in knife crime. We’ve seen two fatalities and some very serious incidents in which people going about their daily business have been attacked while doing so.
‘What we need to ensure now is that, as a society we’re coming down heavy on people who are convicted of knife crime and we ensure that the appropriate sentences are applied to those that do end up in court,’ he adds.
Under the Firearms and Offences Weapons Act, the maximum sentence for possession of a knife is five years. An attempt by Fianna Fáil TD Jim O’Callaghan to double this was not supported by the previous Government. However, recent events have put the amendment back on the agenda again.
Though Flynn is aware, such deterrents are only one part of what needs to be a coordinated effort — which is not being helped by Covid-19 and the closure of local sports and youth clubs.
‘Harsher sentences will be a deterrent but what we also need to do is educate people in terms of knife crime,’ he says. ‘We need to realise that in terms of accessing youth at the moment, there’s limited availability in regard to getting into youth clubs, boxing clubs, football clubs.© Provided by Extra.ie An attempt by Fianna Fáil TD Jim O’Callaghan to double this was not supported by the previous Government.Pic: Niall Carson/PA Wire
‘We have a whole population of youth at the moment who are not accessing schooling and not accessing supports in terms of youth clubs or any other sporting facilities. That would be a means of educating people around knife crime and around drugs and anti-social behaviour and so forth.
‘This just hasn’t popped up out of nowhere but I would say lockdown has been a contributory factor to the increase in anti-social behaviour and the increase in knife crime, particularly in my own area.’
Flynn has teamed up with a number of other local politicians, — including Councillor Christy Burke and Councillor Kieran Perry — in a bid to come up with a system that will help change people’s views on knife crime.
‘What we want is the activation of an anti-knife crime campaign that will be localised within the central area,’ he says.
‘We’re looking at ambassadors through that campaign, city-wide ambassadors who are involved in sports at all levels and all aspects. We’re looking at Knock Out Knife Crime as the hashtag, as the motto, in engaging with the youth in regards to knife crime.© Provided by Extra.ie Talk of a knife amnesty and collection boxes in Garda stations has been dismissed
‘What we need to do is educate young people and what we’re asking for through the Knock Out Knife Crime campaign is to ensure that we have youth speaking to youth.
‘We want ambassadors within this city, people who have done well, to come out front and tell people this is not a way and means of life. Carrying a knife is not something that’s going to get you anywhere in life other than a jail sentence — though those jail sentences need to be higher.’
Flynn has heard every suggestion going in regards to tackling knife crime, including the oft-used idea of an amnesty, which he doesn’t believe will work.
‘There has been talk anecdotally around the city in terms of a knife amnesty and collection boxes in Garda stations but that’s not something that I would be supportive of at all,’ he says. ‘We’re not going to encourage people to carry knives from a to b to c.
‘What we need to do is educate people on the ground, particularly young people. We need to deter them from using knives at a minimum.
‘But we also need to educate them about what would happen to those individuals if they are caught with a knife and the devastating effects that it has on other people’s lives, like the people who have died over the past number of days and the people affected by knife crime in general.© Provided by Extra.ie Pictured are balloons being released to commemorate the teenager who cannot be named, who was fatally stabbed on on East Wall Road, Dublin. Photograph: Leah Farrell / RollingNews.ie
‘The focus needs to be on youth engagement.’
He’s also insistent that policing has a central part to play.
‘What we need to do as well is change the perspective in terms of how we police,’ he says. ‘We need to police this issue very boldly first of all. But we also need to get back down on the ground with a community policing plan, not only in the Dublin Central area but the country as a whole.
‘The guards have stepped up during Covid-19 with community supports and ensuring that old folks have got medication and meals are being delivered and so forth. But I think what we’ve lost sight of is that the guards are there to police, to ensure that there is no anti-social behaviour, that there is no knife crime.’
He believes this message that there needs to be more Garda visibility on the streets needs to be brought home to Garda Commissioner Drew Harris.
‘We’ve seen a lack of community policing within our area, primarily we’ve seen a serious reduction in yellow vests on the ground.© Provided by Extra.ie Families and friends have been left devastated by knife crime in Dublin. Pic: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie
‘We’ve seen the Dáil move into the Central area, which now has probably the highest statistical rate of knife crime over the past number of months. But we’ve seen a drain on resources from the Dáil and other issues that are happening in this area.
‘What we need is guards back on the ground. We need them involved in the youth clubs, football, boxing and any other organisation that we can get them into. We need them on the same page. It shouldn’t be an us and them approach, it needs to be an altogether approach to tackle this.’
Justice Minister Helen McEntee met with Harris this week to discuss their ‘shared concern’ around knife crime in the inner city. A Department of Justice spokesperson said: ‘The Commissioner confirmed to the minister that An Garda Síochána has a comprehensive policing plan in place in Dublin’s north inner city.
‘They agreed that strong community engagement, increased community safety and youth services are a key element in preventing and reducing crime. They also discussed outreach and information programmes.’
Flynn says he is behind a campaign to set up a one-stop-shop that will involve law enforcement and communities working together.© Provided by Extra.ie Members of the public viewing tributes left at the scene on East Wall Road where the teenager was fatally stabbed on Tuesday evening. Pic: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie
‘[Knife crime] is something that can be challenged and it can be done very, very easily from an on-the-ground effort from the guards, the drugs task forces, all the stakeholders, with everybody brought under a ministerial forum. We called on the Minister for Justice to do this, we haven’t had a reply yet. But this is certainly something that cannot be on the back burner in terms of how we approach it.
‘This is something that needs to be taken seriously at all levels. It isn’t for politicians to be out there singing, everybody needs to be singing off the same hymn sheet.’
Flynn understands that gardaí may often feel let down by sentencing — which can make their job feel futile.
‘I think from the guards point of view, they’ve seen a few remedial sentences handed out, not only in relation to knife crime but with regard to crime in general across the board,’ he says. ‘The harsh sentences are just not being handed out.
‘We saw sentencing only a couple of days ago in terms of sexual assault where somebody was fined €100. The minimum fine for littering is €150. That’s not acceptable.
‘Judges need to actually cop on here. It’s not up to me to tell the judiciary how to do their job but the fact of the matter is that if we keep releasing these individuals into the community then they’re going to continue to reoffend. What we’re not doing is rehabilitating those individuals and we’re not supporting the families of victims of knife crime across the board.© Provided by Extra.ie ‘There’s a systemic failure that’s been happening for years and years’ according to CLLR Flynn. Photograph: Leah Farrell / RollingNews.ie
‘There’s a systemic failure that’s been happening for years and years. We need to come to a point where we are going to get tough and increase the legislation and ensure we’re given the appropriate mandatory sentences for knife crime, first and foremost, but also educating the individuals who are in our communities — again, all of the stakeholders coming together.’
Flynn says he understands that the Covid-19 crisis has had a huge impact on Garda responsibilities as well as budgets, but insists this cannot be used as an excuse.
‘Covid-19 has taken over everybody’s lives and everything else is being put on hold,’ he says. ‘We’ve got issues in regard to housing, education, public health — but the fact of the matter is we have a serious issue with regard to crime.
‘It’s now a time where everybody needs to stand up —there’s no more time for babysitting here, the holiday is over. The Minister needs to act. The commissioner needs to act. They need to engage with the community stakeholders on everything that needs to be dealt with.’
He is hopeful that the Knock Out Knife Crime can get off the ground and help locals become the front line in trying to eradicate violence in their communities.
‘We’ve had really good support from advocacy groups about the launch,’ he says.
‘It needs to come from the community, from the people. Then the legislators can respond in tow with what the community are looking for.
‘I think we have the guts of something good on the back of something very, very bad.’