Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sitting on the gangland fence

The recent criminal justice bill passed through the Dail left me on the fence. On one hand, it’s easy to see that action must be taken to combat gang crime, particularly (though not exclusively) in Dublin and Limerick. On the other hand, I can see how it may impinge on someone’s human rights- someone only needs to be suspected of being involved with a gang to be arrested and tried in the Special Criminal Court (SCC).

In my state of tandem, I looked to see how other countries have dealt with gangs in the past. The result seems to be the same across the board- they are either killed (in countries like China) or tried with no jury (as in Italy). I would look to Italy as one of the world leaders in dealing with gang crime, as their handling of the Mafia has been very effective.

In may ways, the situation in ‘gangland’ Ireland is reminiscent of the situation in 1970s Mafia-ridden Italy. In Ireland, as in Italy, gangs are very much a family business. In Italy there was the Corleones, in Ireland we have the McCarthy-Dundons. Gangs do not simply ‘die out’ when they are family and community based. Action needs to be taken, and power needs to be given to Police forces to combat gangs.

Trial without jury does go against the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights – most notably Article 9 which states; “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile” but also Article 7; “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.” As I heard on Karen Coleman’s The Wide Angle on Newstalk this morning, if this (arbitrary detention) happened elsewhere (for example Guantanamo Bay) there would be complete opposition in Ireland.

The simple fact is, however, that this is not happening elsewhere. This is happening on our doorsteps, and as such, immediate action is needed. As I have already said, trial by jury is ‘best practice’ in this area. In times of crisis, there needs to be more power given to crime-fighting than the criminals have themselves.

Another interesting option is taking the approach modelled in the USA in dealing with the infamous MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha) gang. This gang is mainly baised in the Central American immigrant community, and is also quite family based. The US Joint Forces Command warned this January that Mexico could be on the verge of collapse, and in the Joint Operating Environment report, which contains projections of global threats and potential wars, puts Mexico on the same level as Pakistan (see here). This is due, largely, to the prevalence of gangs such as MS-13 and their activity in Mexico.

A new FBI taskforce was established in 2005 to deal exclusively with MS-13 (see the USA Today report here). Maybe there should be an elite unit of Gardai equipped to deal with gangs, with branches in Limerick and Dublin. This unit would receive special training, be independent and answerable directly to the Minister for Justice.

The entire issue is complicated, but it is crucial that we look at this as a single thread in a gang problem that reaches across the entire world.

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