|Hands up, you're in the South now|
As we drove back across the Border at Lenamore, my friend seemed to exhale a sigh of relief. The once-forbidding outer reaches of the Steelstown and Galliagh suburbs of Derry city were a welcoming haven now, he said.
He was joking, of course, but with more than a hint of ironic truth
‘I’ve told friends in the South that I’m getting too nervous to visit them now,’ he said, 'because all I seem to read about is violence and murder.
‘At least when that was happening up here, we sort of saw the reason for it. We could even avoid it and live our lives in relative safety. Down there, it just seems senseless and random and it’s as bad as ever it was up here.'
I decided to keep a tally. Today (12 March), it includes the following:
• A decomposing body – thought to be that of a young man who was murdered last summer – unearthed from a bog in north Kerry;
• A member of a military bomb disposal squad injured while making safe an improvised explosive device (IED) fixed to the underside of a car in Cork;
• A warning by a local politician that the proliferation of knives has led to a wave of seemingly random attacks in Dundalk.
The body from the bog was a chilling reminder of the continuing search for the ‘disappeared’ victims of the Troubles. Combined with the under-car bomb, it harked back to the legacy of a 30-year conflict in Northern Ireland, an era we are still working to put behind us forever.
|Gardaí gather at another crime scene|
But on my trawl for news of violent crime south of the Border, I could have gone back for the past month and compiled daily incidents of violent crime, a recurring catalogue that matches some of the worst of the Troubles.
It would include the shooting of four men, two of them fatally, near a GAA clubhouse in Kildare; a drive-by shooting in suburban Dublin when stray bullets narrowly missed a group of innocent teenage girls; the discovery of two bodies, both with fatal gunshots, in separate cars in rural Roscommon; and the corpses of two men, both shot, in a burnt-out car dumped in isolated Ravensdale Forest just south of the Border.
It is a chilling reminder of former times, yet such wanton violence seems to have become almost an accepted aspect of life south of the Border. When it was happening up north, there was natural alarm that it could spiral out of control and even infect the south in its mindless mayhem.
Back then, people from Dublin and points south visibly quaked at the prospect of crossing the Border. Truth to be told, some still do.
Yet the fact is that the recorded level of violent crime in Northern Ireland last year was the lowest since the start of 1969. Let me say that again, the violence has dropped to the level it was before the real onset of the Troubles and the start of the IRA campaigns.
That was back in the relatively innocent days when Dublin and all of Ireland was agog at the grisly case of medical student Shan Mohangi convicted of killing his 16-year-old girlfriend in a botched home abortion. That notorious story began in 1963 and rolled on for years. Today, it would be a mere blip on the screen of public consciousness, kept alive only by the True Crime industry.
|Living in the dark Underworld of 'Jerry Lynch'|
For it is a relatively new feature of journalism south of the border that Crime Reporters are top of the heap. They churn out a seemingly endless diet of murder and more, salivating over the details, weaving it into the fabric of ‘what readers want’ and conveying it with all the self-serving certitude of their police informants. It’s like an endless reel of the cult movie Intermission, with Colm Meaney’s over-the-top detective character ‘Jerry Lynch’ directing all the action.
Twenty-five years ago, Dublin newsrooms had ‘Security Correspondents’ whose main job was to monitor and report on the spill-over of violence from the North. ‘Indigenous’ violent crime, not connected to the North, was rare and largely played down by the police because it happened in marginalised and impoverished working-class communities.
Yet the onset of the peace process brought a commensurate rise in the level of ‘crime reporting’. Today, Dublin’s coterie of ‘Crime Reporters’ form a new hierarchy in the industry. They combine into a new breed of reporter that specialises in bated breath, in-your-face eyewitness accounts, delivered with all the brashness of Hollywood goodfellas. The violent murder of their role model, Veronica Guerin, hardly brought a pause in their early gallop and they have now become the self-fulfilling prophets of our age.
Today, many of them even double as writers of churned-out popular crime fiction eagerly sought by publishers to supplement the diet of voracious readers and whet their appetite for the next instalment of reality. It is also noteworthy that among the new flush of crime novelists, the talented teacher from Derry Brian McGilloway focuses his fiction across the frontier in Donegal, an otherworldly Underworld of the imagination that is increasingly styled ‘Borderlands’, as if it was one actual place removed from the real Ireland.
Meanwhile, other crime reporters specialise in cut-and-paste books of their most salacious offerings for a regurgitated feast of sickening stand-out stories. And just in case you missed it all, there are ‘dot.ie’ websites dedicated to listing news of crime.
It is an endless carousel of crime that begets crime and we can’t even blame the evil empire of Rupert Murdoch who has little control over Dublin’s media machine.
So do I propose censoring news of crime?
Certainly not, but I can’t help feeling that the ascendancy of these Underworld overlords in our news industry has been at the expense of real news gathering, of competent hard-slog journalism that would focus on more than the sensationalised symptoms of a sick society.
Let’s disregard the endless repetition of that police lexicon of ‘thugs’ and ‘villains’, blaming them alone for spiralling violent crime.
Focus instead on the overwhelming majority of people in these marginalised communities who know themselves what can and cannot be done to improve their lives and the prospects of their children.
Let’s step back and resist ‘shock and horror’ for what many news editors would deem ‘boring angles’.
Let’s conduct a reasonable debate about the ‘criminalisation’ of drug addiction that feeds the twin maws of criminals and a ‘law and order’ cult.
Who knows, we might even reverse the seeming inevitable slide into crime as normal.
|Non-political crime was once largely in the realm of TV drama|
It happened up here with a lot more baggage to carry along and it can happen down there if society resists the dark world of ‘law and order’ doomsayers, and reassesses its values from a fixation with crime to a real focus on caring for ‘all the children of the nation’.
Meanwhile, I’ll probably be watching my back when I cross the Border. For as they used to say on Hill Street Blues, back in those halcyon days of the early 1980s when non-political crime was mostly the fare of American TV soap operas, ‘Let’s be careful out there.’