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File photo: Pictured is a display of knives taken off the street by Gardai in 2009. Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

Jim O'Callaghan 'The possession of knives has become normalised - this needs to be reversed'

The Fianna Fáil TD says it is not enough for society to just express condolences when people die because of knife crime.

IN RECENT DAYS we have again seen terrible violence inflicted by knives in this country. It is unwelcome to have several incidents hit the headlines in such a short period of time, confirming knives’ violent presence in Irish society. Such acts of violence illustrate that the possession and use of knives for violent purposes has become far too common.

This is confirmed by some Garda statistics. Last year An Garda Síochána seized 2,146 knives with 905 of them seized in Dublin, 164 in Louth, 128 in Cork and 105 in Galway. In the seven years between 2016 and 2022 over 13,000 knives have been seized by the Gardai. In 2016 1,203 knives were sized so the numbers are growing significantly.

Growing trend

This is not an Irish phenomenon and we saw earlier this week in Nottingham three people tragically killed as a result of unprovoked knife attacks. Although in Ireland we don’t have recorded statistics for homicides caused by knife crime, we do know from the UK that the number of knife crime deaths in 2021/2022 was the highest on record, with 218 deaths in the 12 months to March 2022. A significant number of these were boys and young men.

In Ireland, it is now apparent that many people, particularly young men, believe it is acceptable and necessary to carry knives for defensive purposes or with intent to cause serious injury.

Consequently, the possession of knives in our society has become widespread and normalised. This is a trend that needs to be reversed.

The two most effective ways of trying to achieve such a reversal are by legislative change and increased education. At present, the maximum penalty for carrying a knife with intent to cause serious harm is five years. Back in 2021, I introduced legislation in the Dáil that sought to double this maximum penalty to 10 years. That has yet to be enacted and Government needs to respond to this serious challenge by enacting this law and amending the current legislation.

Knives as weapons

One of the benefits of strengthening our laws and establishing a stronger deterrent is that it will send a very clear message that carrying a knife is unacceptable and will have serious consequences if you are apprehended.

Similarly, society has an obligation to inform and educate boys and young men about the dangers of carrying knives.

Many young men carry knives for defensive purposes and without any intent to use them. However, if a row breaks out and one of the participants has a knife it frequently is the case that the knife is used with devastating consequences for the victim and indeed the perpetrator.

There is a high incidence of the use of knives in domestic violence disputes. We need to tackle that issue, not just through legislation in respect of knife crime but predominantly through ensuring domestic violence is recognised as the scourge it is and tackled relentlessly in order that it be stamped out.

We do not know the extent to which knives are used in domestic violence disputes. We do not know the number of times knives are used threateningly but not for inflicting physical harm on a partner.

We need to ensure that when we seek to tackle, outlaw and target the scourge of domestic violence, we emphasise that it comes in many forms and the threat of violence is as significant as violence itself.

Lives have been lost and ruined as a result of the impetuous use of knives by people who presumed they would never use them. The carrying of knives for what may be perceived as self-defence purposes can lead to tragic outcomes. A fight or dispute develops, a knife is produced, a person is unintentionally killed and there are terminal and tragic consequences for the person killed, their family and the other individuals involved in the dispute.

Similarly, society has an obligation to inform and educate boys and young men about the dangers of carrying knives. We need to start in our schools by educating young people about the danger caused and the harm inflicted by knives. Many people are not fully aware of the extent of the horrific medical damage that can be inflicted by them.

We also need to look at whether we should create other offences relating to the age at which people are entitled to purchase knives from shops. We will never be able to remove knives from Irish society as in every kitchen in Ireland there will be knives.

We do not wish nor would we be able to remove those, but particular types of knives which are manufactured not for culinary purposes but for combat should be outlawed so that they cannot be purchased by people under a certain age.

If we strengthen our laws and initiate a compelling information and education programme for young people we will improve the opportunity and increase societal discussion about violence and the use of knives.

It is not sufficient for society to merely shake its head and express condolences when young people lose their lives as a result of knife crime. More must be done.

Legislators and policymakers in Ireland must lead by changing the law and starting an information and education campaign to warn people of the danger and consequences of carrying knives with the intent to cause harm.

Jim O’Callaghan is a barrister and Fianna Fáil TD. He is also the party’s front-bench spokesman on justice.


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