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Dublin: 9 °C Monday 18 March, 2019
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'For some, crime is the most realistic chance of owning a home, buying a car or having a family'

DCU graduate Mark Kelly describes his sadness that names he remembers from childhood have found themselves caught up in the recent gangland feud.

Mark Kelly

DURING THE ANNUAL cleaning of my room last week, I came across my Leaving Cert results from 2007.

I received 130 points from the exams which I sat in O’Connell’s Secondary School on North Richmond Street – a literal stone’s throw away from The Sunset House, the pub where a man was fatally shot in connection with Dublin’s latest gangland feud just over a month ago.

From birth, I lived in a two-bedroom flat on Dublin’s North Strand, where myself and my two older siblings shared a room until we were in our teenage years.

My father worked as a labourer on construction sites until he found himself unemployed when the industry collapsed. My mother worked two cleaning jobs in the local school and community centre.

I completed my Leaving Cert examinations when I was just 16 years old in a school where parents sent their children to keep them safe off the streets rather than to achieve great academic results.

Ultimately, this is an area that has one of the lowest rates of progression into third level colleges in the whole country. That is not a slight on my school. I learned more emotional and social intelligence from attending O’Connell’s than any fee-paying school in the country could have ever provided.

The appeal of crime 

When reading about Dublin’s latest gangland feud, a feud where the victims have mainly been claimed from the north inner city, I am overcome with a sense of sadness.

Sadness that names which I remember from my childhood have found themselves in tragic and violent situations. I don’t feel anger when I read about these crimes as I know these people are the product of an environment which has gone untreated for far too long.

From a very young age the members of these gangs find themselves taking part in crime and reaping the rewards it can bring.

Time progresses and before you know it you’re in so deep that the only option you have is to carry out a hit, transport a huge amount of drugs or flee to another country in the hope of a fresh start.

You see, just because we weren’t born to wealth or in a fancy address code doesn’t mean that from a young age we don’t have big dreams or desire a life of luxury.

Growing up in the inner city you’re frequently told that you can’t achieve and, in the minds of some, turning to crime is the most realistic chance of owning a home, buying a car or having a family.

I’m not condoning the horrible crimes committed by these people, I’m merely trying to offer an understanding as to why some find themselves where they are.

The infrastructure and support systems that young people in the area need for guidance simply aren’t available and there are not enough attractive alternatives for some to not find the benefits of crime appealing.

Vulnerable people left exposed 

Government policies on drugs and social welfare have left an already vulnerable community even more exposed to a life of poverty and crime.

The war on drugs has failed the inner city in more ways than one. Policy on decriminalising/legalising drugs, such as the successful models in Portugal and Czech Republic, would allow for the control and sale of drugs to be taken from the hands of the very gangs which this recent spate of crime has come from.

A recent report by the United Nations estimated that gangs in Ireland potentially make €600 million a year from heroin alone. The same report concluded that only 3% of all heroin smuggled into Ireland was actually seized by gardaí.

Sadly, this gangland feud is not the only thing that has claimed the lives of people that I shared childhood memories with.

Several have passed away from drug overdoses and the government’s insistence that drug use is a criminal issue and not a health one has also had a huge detrimental impact on the inner city, where heroin abuse has destroyed entire families and communities.

The most recent statistics released from the Health Research Board revealed that in 2013 deaths from heroin overdoses increased by 34%.

A study by Coolmine Therapeutic Community showed that in 2014 there was an increase in heroin use in Dublin, specifically from women. So we must ask ourselves what exactly is being done? Where is money being spent? Because these policies and strategies have been in place for decades now and things are getting worse, not better.

Addicts can’t receive the treatment they so desperately require and are discarded onto the streets where they turn to crimes such as shoplifting, mugging, burglaries and potentially even carrying out attacks for gangs in order to fund their drug addiction.

Instead of receiving help instantly, they are handed a criminal conviction and once an individual has a criminal record, the likelihood of finding employment drops and the likelihood of reoffending and falling deeper into crime increases.

Current laws do not allow a criminal conviction, no matter how small, to be removed from a person’s record. It comes as no surprise then that almost 50% of people who have previously been in prison will reoffend within 3 years of their release. Cuts to social welfare payments for those under the age of 26 has also damaged the inner city.

John’s Choices “Young John’s local school has had its funding cut and he doesn’t have the necessary support systems to be guided to good academic grades. Now that he’s finished secondary school, his poor results and the cost of third level education mean he’s going to have to forget about college and instead find work straight away. Sadly the address he put on his CV has a reputation for being crime-ridden and when he does make it to the interview stage employees think his accent will put customers off. This means that his last option is social welfare.

“Of the €144 he receives a week, most is spent on ever-increasing rent and putting food on the table. John’s just seen on the news that his social welfare is going to be cut to €100 a week for no reason other than he’s under the age of 24. A few weeks later he receives two letters in the post, one informs him that he’s now going to have to pay for the water he drinks and washes himself with. The other is a letter from the private bin collection company, one of the firms that the government sold the rights to waste collection to; it says that the cost of collecting his bins is due to increase.

“Faced with more bills, less income and no reasonable chance of employment, young John doesn’t have many options: He could take some drugs to temporarily release the stress, he could sell some drugs or commit petty crimes to get a bit of much needed cash or he can commit suicide to escape it all. Not one for taking drugs and still holding on to hope that things may improve, John decides to sell a bit of heroin for the time being, but just enough so he can pay his bills off because he really doesn’t want a life of crime. A couple of years pass and John is now the main suspect in a shooting after having the fear of death put into him by his gang leader.”

No longer embarrassed

One may ask why I feel the need to write this now, when crime and addiction has been an issue in the inner city for years.

This week, I submitted my final assignment in Dublin City University and expect to graduate with a level-8 degree once results are released, despite those 130 points in 2007.

Some of my closest friends from DCU will be finding this information about me out for the first time when they read this; in college there can be a small degree of snobbery towards how many Leaving Cert points students receive, when that conversation came up I always put my head down and hoped I wouldn’t be asked about my results.

But now I’m no longer embarrassed by my results, I’m proud of them. I’m proud that despite the odds being against me, I’ve become one of the first people in my family’s bloodline to attend University.

I haven’t just scraped by in college, I’ve won awards for my work, I’ve made more friends than I can count and I will go on to get a Masters degree in the coming years once it’s financially possible for me to do so.

I know that the people I call my friends from home are equally as intelligent and smart as the people I call my friends in college, the only difference is that they don’t have the same support systems and care that is required for them to succeed.

So I’m writing this now with the aim of raising some awareness for the issues affecting the area I call my home. In the hope that some people may read this and change how they perceive the inner city and those caught up in crime and addiction.

I’m also writing this in the small chance that if young people from the same background as I happen to read it, they know that there is hope and opportunities other than crime if things don’t go well straight away.

The inner city streets are brimming with some of the most inspiring, kind and beautiful people you will ever meet.

  • Kellie Harrington, the female boxer who performed brilliantly recently to win a silver medal in the world championship in boxing, was in my class when I was a child.
  • Premier League and Irish international footballer, Wes Hoolahan lived just around the corner.
  • As did Oscar nominated director Jim Sheridan, Love/Hate actor Laurence Kinlan and businessman Bill Cullen.

These are just a small select few of the many incredibly talented people who all lived and grew up in the inner city. The only difference between the people listed above and the people caught up in crime is that at a very young age they got lucky and made a decision to go a certain route.

But that is a decision any child is too young to make and, sadly, it is far too easy to make the wrong choice; a choice that shouldn’t be in our hands in the first place.

I know that I and many others who have gone on to beat the odds could have so easily gone down a different path, but it’s up to the government to block off access to that path.

That won’t happen with repeatedly poor political policies and the continuous papering over of cracks. It will happen with the correct support, education and nurturing of our young children. Give us hope, allow us to believe in ourselves and you will reap the rewards.

This degree is for you, Dublin 1.

Mark Kelly is a 25-year-old videographer from Dublin’s North Inner City who studied Communication Studies in Dublin City University.

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