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Neale Richmond: To tackle knife crime we should take our cues from Scotland

The Fine Gael TD says we should look to Scotland and how they handled a surge in knife crime if we are to tackle our knife problem here.

Neale Richmond

THIS YEAR STARTED with a worrying increase in the vicious trend of knife crime in Dublin which has had devastating effects on families and communities.

In the space of a few weeks, the Gardaí have already had to deal with too many tragic fatalities due to knife attacks. The Government must now act promptly and effectively to put an end to this surge in knife crime that unfortunately is most common among younger people in terms of both victims and attackers.

While it is understandable that some call for stronger and mandatory minimum sentencing to act as a deterrent to those who carry or use knives, the Government and communities must also look towards finding more long-term solutions by adopting an all-encompassing approach to tackling knife crime.

An obvious model can be found in the approach taken by the Scottish Government in the mid-2000s.

Scotland’s VRU

In 2005, after damning reports depicting Scotland as one of the most violent countries plagued with a surge in knife crime among young people, the Scottish Government set up and launched the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit (VRU).

The VRU was initially set up in what WAS then known as ‘The Murder Capital of Europe’, a city familiar to many Irish people, Glasgow.

Since Scotland started treating knife crime with a public health approach via the VRU, violent crime, including knife crime has been dramatically reduced.

The unit is fully funded by the Government and operates by forming strong, close, relationships between the police and key workers in the health, education and social sectors to deal with vulnerable young people in often neglected communities.

The objective of the VRU is to offer these vulnerable individuals alternative opportunities and crucially, a way out of the spiral of violence that they often find themselves in when it becomes normal to carry a knife, to keep one in their school bag or hide it under their bed.

Community is key

This community-led approach follows a plan whereby the police engage directly with young people who are most at risk or considered to be at risk of engaging in violence.

They run proper information sessions on the consequences of carrying knives and offer them ways to speak and engage with social workers.

Through this method the motto of the VRU is implemented: ‘Violence is preventable and not inevitable’.

Young people are spoken to in plain terms and develop positive relationships with mentors in key sectors. This can see the behaviour of the individuals involved in VRU sponsored-programmes is alter, driving down knife crime.

The success of this public health approach can be seen by examining the key figures, since the establishment of the VRU, the number of homicides in Glasgow has dropped by 65%.

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In Ireland, knife crime must be as much a public health issue as well as a criminal justice one; focusing on positive prevention as well as legal punishment. Education, youth diversion, outreach and employment opportunities are central to diverting at-risk young people away from crime but teaching them plainly and bluntly about the ramifications of carrying a knife will be key.

This all-in approach can provide a sustainable solution to the brutal spate of stabbings and knife crimes that we have sadly seen on the rise across the country more recently, specifically in Dublin.

Unfortunately, the prospect of punishment alone is not enough to prevent knife crime. We must look for solutions that use positive methods and direct engagement with those most at risk of carrying or using a knife.

We must look to Scotland.

Neale Richmond is a Fine Gael TD for Dublin Rathdown and is former Seanad spokesperson on EU affairs for the party. 

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