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gangland shootings

"We don’t want that to be normal for our kids - to see guards in balaclavas with machine guns"

In the aftermath of the gangland shootings, the community in Dublin’s inner city is looking for change.
“If it was happening anywhere else, I believe [there] would be a sustained uproar until it is resolved.”

26/4/2016. Gangland Shootings Murders

THE RECENT GANGLAND shootings in Dublin – such as those at the Regency Hotel, Sheriff Street and the Sunset House pub – have led to much speculation about the activities of the shadowy figures behind the killings.

But push past the talk of feuds, gangs, and criminal kingpins, and you have the ordinary people whose lives are being affected by killings happening outside their front doors.

Those who work and live in Dublin’s north inner city are starting to say enough is enough – and community groups are gathering to try and get the government to deal with the underlying issues that are affecting the disadvantaged communities.

Difficulties and trauma

Patrick Gates, coordinator of the Young People at Risk Programme, tells that those working in children’s services in the north inner city “can’t cope with the amount of families presenting with seriously deep difficulties and trauma”.

He says it is difficult to get primary care psychology for those who need it. “So there’s nowhere for people to go,” he adds. Then there are those who are selling drugs, and presenting an option, though illegal, for people – in an area of high unemployment – to make money.

In order to break this cycle, he says there needs to be some intervention and long-term measures put in place “that will present an alternative that will give them some sort of opportunity to make a decent living, allow them to live in their community without having to resort to criminal activity”.

14/4/2016 Gangland Murders Crime Scenes The site where Martin O'Rourke was shot dead.

“Everybody is getting traumatised by this, so we are all affected by it,” he says. “We don’t want that to be normal, for our kids to see guards in balaclavas [with] machine guns, and to see shootings, and deal with the aftermath of that.”

His organisation had its budget cut by 30%, and he says other services have had “huge cutbacks”.

“This area has been neglected for so many years in terms of the real investment it needs,” says Gates.

“And it’s not by accident that there are so many people in this community who are in jail or in the criminal justice system. It’s not because they were born criminals, their environment creates that.”

In addition, he says there has been a real tension between young people and gardaí because of how this community has been viewed by the State.

22/4/2016. Martin O'Rourke Funeral. Ms. Angelina P Angelina Power, the partner of gangland shooting victim, Martin O'Rourke Eamonn Farrell Eamonn Farrell

Noel Wardick of Dublin City Community Cooperative says that with the summer months coming up, parents are particularly concerned about their children being on the streets.

He says the impact of the current violence on young people “is a huge concern”.

“There’s an element of young people, who don’t know any better, idolising the apparent lifestyle, the apparent glamorous nature of it,” he says. “But if you come from a highly disadvantaged community that has intergenerational disadvantage, this is often the only perceived option to escape it.”

“Unless there is a huge investment in resources to remove that attraction, it’s very difficult to convince young people that there are alternatives,” he says.

The violence is encroaching more and more on the normal day-to-day lives of everybody, of families, communities, these are normal families trying to rear their families, trying to bring their kids to school, same as everyone else in the country. And here we have part of Dublin city, our capital, where we have people afraid to do that. What does that say about the country in 2016?

He adds: “If it was happening anywhere else, I believe it would be a sustained uproar until it is resolved. I haven’t seen the Minister for Justice in this area.”

“There has always been an element of disadvantaged communities being abandoned, the first hit,” he says.

Where are the politicians?

The absence of the Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald in the area was also brought up at a meeting in a community centre on Killarney Street on Friday morning. The meeting was organised by Icon (Inner City Organisation Network), an umbrella group of community organisations.

IMG_9620(w) (1) Jim Berkeley Jim Berkeley

What emerged from the discussion – which involved community group representatives, rather than being a community forum – was the sense that many of these people had been there before.

They had marched against drugs in their community in the 1980s and 90s, and they had spoken up about violence, but this time, things were different.

This time, one community worker tells, there are guns.

That has led to a fear among some people of holding large-scale anti-drug marches. Instead, there was talk of holding a peaceful walk where members of the community could gather to show that they want to stand up against drugs and violence.

The Icon representatives want to see more of a response from the State, and the gardaí, to the issue. They also want the new government to put a Drugs Minister in place who has a role in Cabinet. The impact of drug use in the north inner city is “horrific for the community”, they say.

There were constant comparisons to Foxrock: What would the response be if three men had been shot in Foxrock? Would the Justice Minister have already visited?

“Who was it this time?”

24/3/2016 Gangland Shootings. The body of a man na The body of Noel Duggan is removed after he was shot dead outside his home in the The Old Mill housing estate in Ratoath, Co Meath

The Icon group described the current violence as “the most visible and extreme face of the devastation caused by nearly 40 years of a serious drug crisis”.

They also spoke about the negative image that this violence can create of a community where people are in fact working hard to combat the effects of drugs, unemployment and social exclusion. There was a call for immediate action by gardaí.

“This community is home to thousands of decent, caring people who are good neighbours, good friends and who are rearing their families to be good and decent people,” says Icon chairperson Seanie Lambe.

Local councillor Gary Gannon grew up in the north inner city, and has major concerns about the impact of the shootings on locals.

He says that there is a “weird sense of, not acceptance, but more of a case of ‘who was it this time’. There wasn’t really the same sense of shock that used to follow these incidents. There is a sense that people have become desensitised.”

It seems we are waiting for the next shooting. It’s the weirdest feeling; it’s the weirdest mentality. It’s not so much there’s a fear but there’s certainly an expectation that something can happen.

Sarah Kelleher of Lourdes Youth and Community Services Ltd says “you never get used to people being killed.”

She says that you don’t get as many young children out in the evenings, and that there is a feeling that it is “only a matter of time” before another shooting takes place.

A local community worker told the Icon meeting of seeing young five and six-year-old children talking about playing with toy guns and pretending to shoot people.

“There is also a feeling that we have been left to deal with it ourselves,” she says. That was reiterated on Friday morning at the Icon meeting. While there were media present, the only elected representative present was Gary Gannon, though he hadn’t been invited in that official capacity.

The newly-elected TD Maureen O’Sullivan sent her apologies for not being there, but it’s understood no other elected representatives were invited. Lambe said afterwards to that he spoke to Christy Burke, former mayor, about the misunderstanding around him not being invited.

One of the suggestions from the Icon meeting was a mini-CAB to target criminals. This idea is described by Gannon as being elitist, with the potential for targeting street traders. “It is something I couldn’t stand over,” he says.

He adds that he thinks there should be a meeting organised among the community groups, the community representatives and locals, through organisations like resident associations, to ensure more voices get to speak.

For him, the concern is having a unified voice, and ensuring that all members of the community have their voice heard.

He says he has been thinking about what a “mature response” to the crisis could be. His answer: People need to talk about it. That talking, he says, needs to be in-depth and substantial.

The impact on children

9/2/2016. Armed Gardai Checkpoints Members of the Garda ERU ( Garda Emergency Response Unit) stand by a Garda Checkpoint in Dublin in February Sam Boal Sam Boal

Mark Smyth is a Senior Clinical Psychologist and member of the Psychological Society of Ireland. On how events like the recent shootings in Dublin could affect children, he says that this depends on many factors:

including the proximity and degree of exposure to the violent event, the child’s relationship with the victim, and the presence of other risk factors (such as pre-existing mental health problems) that influence the severity of the lasting effects of exposure to gun violence.

“A child does not have to directly witness gun violence directly to be impacted by the stress of it,” he says.

“After hearing about acts of violence such as shootings in their neighbourhood, children may feel that their safety is threatened and understandably decide that the world is a dangerous and unpredictable place.”

8/2/2016. Gangland Murders Crime Scenes The scene in Ballybough in Dublin where a man Eddie Hutch Senior, brother of Gerry Hutch was shot dead Sam Boal Sam Boal

He says that at any age extreme or persistent fear leads to stress, “which can cause their body and mind to be on high alert even in low risk environments”.

He says a child may experience intrusive thoughts about the traumatic event and sleep disturbance, which can affect their academic performance.

He cautioned that in some cases, direct or close exposure to gun violence can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder. This can be recognised in children through them displaying hypervigilance, an exaggerated startle response, anxiety, and recurring thoughts and dreams associated with the traumatic event.

Children who are traumatised by a shooting in their area may also attempt to avoid people, places, or objects that remind them of the initial trauma.

For some children they can react by detaching emotionally from others and show less interest in activities they once enjoyed, have difficulty expressing their emotions, lose their temper easily, or exhibit outbursts of anger.

Can people become desensitised to such events? “Yes, for some this is possible,” says Smyth. He says that people can become desensitised “when it becomes so frequent that we show less of an emotive reaction to it after repeated exposure to it.”

Can violent behaviour becoming commonplace in an area lead to more violence? “In short yes, research has found that exposure to high levels of chronic community violence can change the normative beliefs about the use of aggression or violence,” says Smyth.

26/4/2016. Gangland Shootings Murders

“It can also depend on outcome occurs from the violence that is witnessed. For example if people who engage in regular acts of violence are conferred with high status in the community or are perceived to have accumulated significant wealth as a result of the violence it makes it more likely that will be copied.”

On a very basic level, as we have seen in recent times in Dublin, acts of violence do lead to further acts of violence in the form of revenge seeking. Once these cycles of retribution begin it can maintain high levels of violence in an area for many years.

Asked about advice that parents could give, Smyth says it is key to remain calm, and to let the children know you are there for them. He says that children cope best with facts, explained in a language appropriate to their developmental level.

His tips for parents:

  • Explain what happened as clearly as you can with basic details.
  • Encourage your child to express feelings, but don’t force the conversation.
  • Let them know it’s okay to cry and to feel sad or upset and that’s normal.
  • If your child is fearful assure them that you will do your best to keep them safe
  • Resist the urge to try and tell them that it won’t happen again, we can never guarantee that.

Read: Gangland bloodshed: Incensed residents call for inner city garda station to be reopened>

Read: Gardaí say perpetrators will be brought to justice after two men shot dead in Dublin last night>

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