THIS COLUMN comes with a health-warning to bleeding hearts! Over-sensitive readers, who believe that vandals should be ‘understood,’ because their mothers did not love them (and all that jazz), should not read a word of what follows.
I know a long-settled inner suburb, where there is an old cohesive community where people respect each other and their properties. They maintain their homes. Paint their doors. Mow the grass. Weed the flower beds and trim the hedges. They do not themselves litter but they pick up any stray bits of litter that might blow into their streets on a windy day. They even sweep and remove deposits of autumn leaves.
The above, unfortunately, is now all part of a past tense. This community, proud and protective of its environment, has been visited, in the past few months, by vandals. Access has been through a central road leading to a recent development, part of which facilitates, it is alleged, a transient occupancy.
So, instead of the odd piece of opportunistic litter, plastic bags filled with rubbish have been dumped on footpaths, and there have been nightly deposits of takeaway food-containers, cans and bottles. The community did not wait for the local authorities to clean the resultant mess. They did it themselves.
But then came the night. Came the thugs.
But then came the night. Came the thugs. Came the drunken shouting. Came the mutilation of the trees. Two sapling rowan trees had been planted in the Spring by the local authority and replaced some old cherry trees. These were already in blossom. (This is a remarkably good year for rowan blossom!). In time, the blossom in summer, berries in autumn, filigree in winter, had an attractive potential for the future and for the people who live in the area.
Almost immediately the trees became a target. The more pliable tender side branches were broken off, and then the main branch of one of the trees was completely severed and remains a pathetic stump. The second tree, already a bit fragile, still stands as a future target for abuse.
Meanwhile, a recently erected receptable for dog-poo, installed by the local authority, has been attacked, and was partially disconnected from its base. (It has subsequently been re-connected). It would seem that anything, animate or inanimate, is good for an alcohol, drug, excess-of-testosterone-fueled assault in the middle of the night.
the recipe for survival
It could be said that all of this is small stuff, especially when it is compared with some urban areas, where vandalism and thuggish behaviour is such that people have been confined to their own homes, on dark winter nights. “Put the car in the garage; lock the door; draw the blinds, and hear-nothing or see-nothing,” that was the recipe for survival in her estate, given to me by an elderly decent citizen, some years ago.
tragedy engaged the powers-that-be
The climate, I am happy to say, has improved for her and her fellow residences, but only when tragedy finally engaged the powers-that-be in facing up to the problem.
So what can be done about it? I discussed the problem with somebody who, professionally, is not unfamiliar with the type of behaviour that is now described as anti-social. “Don’t give me all that stuff about forming a football team!” I said. He didn’t. Ever optimistic about the redemptive potential of the human condition, he promised to “think about a solution.”
For the ordinary citizen, held hostage to vandalism, there appears to be no solution. Since much of it happens under cover of darkness, identification is impossible. And most people will not report incidents to the gardai, being of the opinion that they are already over-burdened by serious crime.
If there is personnel in local authorities whose responsibility it is to identify behaviour which is inimical to the well-being of communities, will they please stand up and be counted?
ordinary citizens at risk of being labelled cranks
But, perhaps, ordinary citizens, at the risk of being labelled cranks, should take some initiative in pursuing the vandals. There are laws on littering, and on dumping. There are laws on noise and disturbance. There are laws on the destruction of public property. How often are prosecutions taken against offenders by local authorities?
If these prosecutions are, apparently, few and far between, is it because we do not sufficiently report such incidents: that we clean up after the messers, like the good residents of the area I have described?
But, for a start, it seems to me that we should stop making excuses for vandals, such as those favoured by the bleeding-hearts I have discouraged from reading this column. Forget all of that psychobabble about mother-love, and deprivation. Let’s give them the names they merit: thugs, hooligans, louts.
And if they are identified as tree-breakers and dumpers, and ultimately brought before our courts, would our newspapers do a service for the community and report the proceedings in full, under banner headlines?
Let’s name them and shame them!