Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 18 October 2012
Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement
Restorative Justice Programmes in Northern Ireland: Discussion
This discussion has been useful. Earlier this week a report was issued on St. Patrick's Institution which outlined many of the problems that arise in the prisons in Ireland, including intimidation, locking up prisoners for 23 hours per day for their own safety, rapes and other awful things. That is occurring across the board and all of us are aware of young people who went into jail healthy but came out as drug addicts or with AIDS. The system is not working at present but, if we were asked whether we want more prison spaces, we would say "Yes" because there is a demand in the community for them.
I am glad Deputy Wall mentioned the drugs problem. This is not a new dynamic of conflict in many areas of Dublin and around the country. It is a lucky town or village that does not have a problem with drugs but one of the huge problems that has now arisen for communities in Dublin is intimidation and drug related deaths. Everyone from grandparents to those involved are being intimidated and people are looking for answers. It is not possible to reason with someone who is drugged out of his or her brain. I know of cocaine houses in my community. People are afraid to work or bring their children to school because their houses could be burgled. Many communities want these individuals to be locked up and put away. We can tell people that it is not cost effective or that their sons and daughters may end up taking this route but they are constantly looking for alternatives to this conundrum. Community based restorative justice programmes may be cost effective and tick all the boxes and gardaí admit that the current system is not working but at the end of the day we are being forced down this road. We are seeing alternatives along the route but the momentum of our journey is carrying us onwards. None of us want to go down the route of prisons but it satisfies a hunger in many communities and it is a brave politician who will stand up to argue that Johnny should be dealt with through a juvenile liaison initiative rather than be imprisoned.
I have been involved in campaigns on joy riding. We tried one initiative called "cop on" and another group called "we have a dream" was established in Ballyfermot. The aim was to offer alternatives by helping young people achieve their dreams. Somebody might only have a dream to watch Manchester United play. Those kids never thought they would achieve their dreams during their lifetimes. The community rallied to show it was prepared to meet them halfway if they made an effort. It is difficult, however, to get the resources and various players into place. It wears people out if the resources and supports are not made available. Somebody needs to pull together the various strings and organisations. That is the big challenge. Somebody must have a big idea that can work and can be sold to the community. We have tried different initiatives to deal with the drug problem, such as the Concerned Parents against Drugs campaign. Many of them did not work but they empowered communities and brought people together. Negative issues arose in some cases because people approached the problem wrongly or did not work it out properly but at least they tried. The problem with drugs is that they frighten people back into their homes and break down community spirit. That makes it very difficult to organise. The witnesses are lucky in that they are not at that stage but it is coming down the track. As a society, we need to look for those alternatives.