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PJ Browne: Faith in gardai suffers as gang crime takes its toll

THE RESULTS of the Herald’s recent crime poll make for worrying reading for the capital’s citizens.

All the more so on the morning after three young men were shot in broad daylight at a public park in Blanchardstown.

The confidence of the public in the gardai is wavering at present, according to the survey, which we published last week.

To be fair, there is much consolation in certain areas but the response of the public to the issue of serious gangland crime is not favourable for the force and much needs to be done to win back support.

The first question the Herald asked was whether people had been victims of crime in the past two years. Around one in six (16pc) said they had been, and that rose to 21pc in the 18 to 24 age bracket.

I believe that there is an explanation for at least half of that 21pc. I would put it down to a sheer lack of alertness when young people go out socialising.

It can be seen in any of the big city centre pubs and clubs. Handbags and mobiles and cameras during the tourist season are often left unattended while people socialise. Sadly, this is just inviting petty criminals to steal.

The next poll question asked the public if they had confidence in the ability of the gardai to investigate crimes such as burglaries, vandalism and anti social behaviour.

Some 62pc said yes, 33pc said no and 8pc did not have a clue. But there’s a more important demographic, with 75pc of those over 65 and 69pc of professional classes having confidence in the gardai.

Personally I find this statistic surprising. There are elderly people throughout Dublin that are afraid to open their doors to neighbours unless the visit is prearranged. But with confidence high among older people, one would have to ask are gardai losing the confidence of young people.

A third question concerned the public’s confidence in the garda ability to deal with gangland crime. In this case opinion was equally divided – with almost half of respondents expressing confidence and half not. That half – or 46pc to be precise – do not have confidence is something that has to worry Justice Minister Alan Shatter and Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, both recently appointed to their respective posts.

There is often a feeling that some criminals can act almost with impunity. Certainly the two men, reportedly Real IRA vigilantes, who carried out yesterday’s shooting at Corduff Park, were brazen enough to do it in broad daylight, on foot.

Stripped

The garda budget has been stripped recently by €21m, with overtime a thing of the past and some of our major units, like surveillance and the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, now restricted in their work. In the last few years of my service we had an operation called Anvil and it played a most important role in thwarting serious crime and prosecuting gangland figures. This, alas, is now so restricted that it is effectively gone for good. Sadly, Minister and Commissioner, the loss of the public’s confidence is a bad reflection on those who went before you.

Senior people in government and the gardai appear to have lost the meaning of that dictum of the force’s first Commissioner, Michael Staines, who said that it would not be by the force of arms, that the gardai would rule but by the will of the people.

Mr Shatter and Commissioner Callinan need to regain the confidence of the people. Urgently.

PJ Browne is a former detective superintendent with over 35 years’ experience policing serious crime