In the last week, in Ireland, there have been five violent deaths.
Since the beginning of the year, there have been seven violent deaths. That’s seven, in thirteen days.
Ireland is a small country. It’s a country in which a violent death – increasingly, death as a result of knife crime – still has the power to shock. It’s a country where watching the news and seeing an ordinary family, one just like yours, ripped to pieces by violence, still gives you pause. You wonder what on earth is wrong. Why people are getting into arguments and, instead of using words to sort it out, they’re resorting to knives, or fists, or guns.
The most recent murder in Ireland happened over the weekend in Dublin, in an affluent suburb – the kind of place where you’d love to live, if only you had the money. It’s not the sort of place you’d associate with violent crime, but then distinctions like that are starting to look shaky and irrelevant in our brand new, ultra-modern little country. At the time of writing this, it appears that the victim lost his life over a disputed move in a game of chess.
A disputed move in a game of chess.
And it has cost a man his life.
This morning, really early, our neighbours moved out. They – father, mother, three children under ten – have decided to emigrate to Australia in search of a better life. Neither of the parents were unemployed, but for so many reasons they felt things might be better for them on the other side of the world. ‘Things are going nowhere here,’ the mother remarked to me the other day. ‘It’s a dead end.’ Their decision to leave may have nothing to do with crime, per se, but I do know they were driven out of their old home by criminal and disruptive behaviour all around them, and they came to live beside my husband and me in an attempt to find a more peaceful existence. I hoped they found it, for the years they spent here, and I wish them well in their new life. I will miss them, particularly their beautiful children, very much.
They’ll be joining a long queue of people leaving this country looking for something abroad that they cannot find here. Most people will return to Ireland in the years to come – because, despite it all, home exerts a huge draw – but that doesn’t help us in the short term. Every family in Ireland has been touched by emigration. We all know what it feels like to have someone we love – in most cases, someone young – living far away from home.
I love my country. In a lot of ways, it’s a wonderful place. Increasingly, though, we are struggling with things like mental health – a mental health helpline recorded a 29% increase in calls to its services last year, for example – and with violent disorder. There has always been a problem with alcohol in Ireland, which goes far beyond the ‘fun-loving party people’ image the rest of the world seems to have of us; we’re a lot more Nordic than that, I think, insofar as our relationship with drink can be dark, cold, inward-looking, and extremely isolated. I’m not a sociologist, and can only speak from my own experience, but it seems to me that Ireland is finding it hard to adjust to new realities – a complicated relationship with religion, increased exposure to immigration, economic difficulties, and a total lack of faith in the government, and indeed in all forms of authority – and, perhaps, many other things as well. The police force is probably the only public body (if, indeed, that’s the right term to describe it) in which the people of Ireland have any faith left. If we lose that, then I fear we might lose ourselves as well.
Irish people tend to be resilient. We just keep on going, getting on with our own lives, keeping the ‘best side out’, as the old saying goes, no matter what happens around us. Suffering is bred into us, some would say. This is all very well, but sometimes I wonder if it allows us the space we need to deal with what’s inside, as well as keeping up a good front. I also wonder, sometimes, how much we can put up with, or when we’ll reach the point where we can’t take any more. All I know is, I think my little country is in trouble – and has been for some time – and figuring out a solution to it is beyond me.
But surely, picking up a knife and destroying not only your victim’s life, but also your own, isn’t the way to deal with whatever might be wrong? There has to be a better way forward than this.
There has to be.