Parents of slain teenager Azzam say knife crime is treated as ‘nothing serious’, despite 57 stabbing deaths here in five years, writes Conor Feehan
The Government has no plans to change the sentencing for knife possession, despite a jump in blade seizures and fears that knife crime is increasingly viewed as "not serious".
Last year, then Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O'Callaghan introduced legislation to double the maximum prison sentence for possession of knives with intent to injure or cause harm from five years to 10.
However, the Government has now said there are no plans to amend the current legislation.
Figures obtained by Dublin Rathdown Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond show that in the three years between 2017 and 2019, knife seizures increased 33pc nationally.
Broken down into regions, there was a 42pc increase in seizures in Dublin, a 25pc increase in Cork city and an 85pc increase in Co Louth, where a feud between two rival factions has been escalating.
"The numbers are worrying, and I'll be looking at different things we could do to try to get the numbers down," Mr Richmond said.
"Knife amnesties have had a good effect in other jurisdictions, and even if it got a few hundred knives off the streets it would be good.
"But it won't do anything for the situations where a lad takes a knife from a block or a drawer and puts it in his pocket before heading out the door.
"I think what's needed is an education campaign in schools, similar to talks that kids get on the dangers of fireworks and things."
Mr Richmond said teenagers most likely do not realise the impact of putting a knife in their pocket.
"They're impressionable and many are probably not aware of the dangers," he said.
In March 2016, An Garda Síochána introduced an electronic system to record knife seizures and other statistics.
The Property and Exhibits Management System (PEMS) has had a significant impact on the electronic recording and tracking of property and exhibits across the organisation, moving from the traditional property book used before.
The family of Dublin teenager Azzam Raguragui, who was stabbed to death in Finsbury Park in Dundrum in May last year, spoke out about knife crime after a juvenile boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was found guilty of his manslaughter.
The boy stabbed Azzam five times with a knife that had been brought to the park.
Azzam's parents said the manslaughter conviction - the teenager had been charged with murder - sends out a message to young people that knife crime is "nothing serious".
"They killed me twice. Once when they stabbed Azzam, and then again with the manslaughter verdict," said Azzam's mother, Hajiba.
"All our life changed afterwards. It is destroyed. We are in the Republic of Ireland and we believe in the justice system and we cannot fault the gardaí.
"They did a great job bringing all the evidence together and presenting it, but we cannot understand how the jury reached a majority verdict of manslaughter."
Azzam's father Abdul said: "How can it be claimed it was self-defence? Bringing a knife out with you and using it five times is not self-defence."
The couple have been told there cannot be an appeal against the verdict.
The boy who killed Azzam has yet to be sentenced. At a recent hearing, which was adjourned, Azzam's family and friends held a demonstration outside the court against knife crime, and carried posters of Azzam and signs reading "Choose Life, Drop The Knife", "Enough Is Enough" and "Justice For Azzam".
There were 11 stabbing homicides in Ireland in 2015, nine in 2016, 12 in 2017 and 13 in 2018.
Last year, there were 12 fatal incidents where knives were suspected as the weapons used.
That is 57 stabbing deaths in five years.
There have been calls this year for longer sentences and a more proactive approach to knife crime after attacks in the capital.
In March, a video of a man using a long-blade knife to corner another man in the Basin Street flats complex in the inner city and stab him repeatedly prompted Mr O'Callaghan to call for a crackdown on knife crime.
"Not only is the use of knives a major worry, but the fact that attacks are being deliberately recorded by the aggressors to be used as examples to others is seen as a development that exposes just how brazen and unafraid of the law some criminals are," he said.
"Fianna Fáil introduced legislation last year to impose longer prison sentences for possession of knives with intent to injure or cause harm.
"At present, the maximum sentence for carrying a blade is five years. Under Fianna Fáil's legislation, that maximum sentence would be increased to 10 years."
A spokesman for the Department of Justice said there are no plans under the Programme for Government to amend this legislation.
"The Government is very aware of the concerns many members of the public hold with regard to the issue of knife crime," the spokesman said.
"We are all familiar with the problems which have emerged in neighbouring jurisdictions in this regard, and the Government is determined to ensure similar problems do not develop here in Ireland.
"While the problem is not of a similar scale here, any stabbing incident can cause irreparable physical harm and have potentially tragic consequences.
"That is why a comprehensive and robust legal framework is in place with respect to knife crime, including heavy penalties for breaches of the laws concerned.
"Under the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act, the maximum penalty for a conviction for possessing a knife in a public place without good reason or lawful authority was increased from one to five years.
"An Garda Síochána also has an extended power of search without warrant in relation to knives and offensive weapons."
The spokesman said gardaí continue to take proactive action against knife crime.
"A substantial number of convictions have been sec- ured in the courts over the past number of years for possession of a knife or other article," he said.
"Gardaí continue to target the area through the Assault Reduction Strategy 2019-2021, through education and engagement with community initiatives and at an operational level."
Responding to the news that his proposed amendment had been shelved, Mr O'Callaghan told the Herald he is "disappointed that the Government isn't prepared to get tougher on knife crime".
"Hopefully, it won't take another serious incident before there's a change in political opinion," he added.