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8 May 1997 Edition

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Television: Nora wastes her day off

It was invigorating to see the issue of crimes making the number one slot on the RTE News (9pm weekdays) on the bank holiday Monday, beating off stiff competition from the story of two old age pensioners who died of natural causes, and Day 378 of Zaire's Countdown-Till-We-Lynch-The-President.

Up popped Nora Owen, Fine Gael's dynamic Minister for Justice, and it was nice to see her wasting her day off, having to stand in the lashing rain in front of Leinster House and pontificate about the underclass problem.

Nora, a grand-niece of Michael Collins and considered to be on the liberal wing of Fine Gael, issued what she imagined to be a blistering broadside against Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats. Why, the last time these two parties were in power, she said, they had hardly jailed any extra people at all!

She, on the other hand, had ordered more prison spaces so that more people could stay in jail, passed a no-bail referendum, so that more people could be sent to jail earlier, and had improved the court and prison systems so that more people could go to jail.

But despite the amazing success of Nora Owen's farsighted approach to the issue of crime, Fianna Fáil still had to complain.

Bertie Ahern appeared on the screen, and accused her of pilfering his brilliant idea of building more prisons. What's more, he added with sadness, she hadn't even stolen the idea properly until the killing of Veronica Guerin.

Next up were the Progressive Democrats (Motto: ``They don't want work''), with a new, improved policy document on crime. It includes such novel ideas as more prison spaces, an end to probation, and longer sentences.

Surprisingly, the PD's Liz O'Donnell was also the only one of the three politicians to mention crime and poverty in the same breath. Her party believes in ``strategies to deal with long-term unemployment, exclusion and drug-addiction'', but in the meantime, there should be more people in jail.

Now, while it's only magnanimous to give credit to the PDs, even the cops know that 80 per cent of all crimes are committed by junkies, who must rob hundreds of pounds' worth of other people's belongings each day just to get a fix.

The PDs are right, of course, that drug abuse is often driven by poverty, mas unemployment, a poor education system and a general sense that life is never going to amount to much, so why not blow it all. And I'm sure that Bertie Ahern, who represents a Dublin constituency, has figured this out too.

But I suppose it would be too much to expect that I might one day turn on my television and hear Bertie, or Nora, say:

``We're going to invest £90 million in drug treatment centres, give people the immediate fix they need so that they don't have to steal and buy drugs from evil pushers, help them kick the habit even if that takes many months, train them for real employment, then create those jobs. We'll use some of the dividends from the Celtic Tiger to combat poverty, provide decent housing, and we'll level the economic playing field by pumping resources into schools everywhere.''

It would be great, too, to see the PDs hard-headed, value-for-the-taxpayer approach being applied to the Gardaí.

Liz O'Donnell might say: ``The guards have lost control of crime in this state because of a corrosive cocktail of corruption and incompetence. They are expert at claiming overtime and processing drunken driving cases, yet have failed to penetrate the ranks of a single drug distribution gang. Their policing methods are crass, outdated and simply inappropriate.''

``In government,'' she could add, ``we will downsize and re-engineer this wasteful and ineffective company.''

But then, Gardaí vote, and junkies don't. So I suppose I'm just being my usual, undemocratic, republican self in suggesting that there should even a real debate, some time between now and polling day.

By Michael Kennedy

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1