Posted tagged ‘anti-social behaviour’

Terror and boredom in public spaces

September 19, 2010

Yesterday evening after dark I was walking along a road in Dublin. At the corner of the road was a green space with a few park benches. A group of teenagers had assembled there, and as far as I could make out they had several ‘six packs’ of either beer or cider. They must already have been there a while, as there were empty cans strewn around the grass, as well as some little boxes that had probably contained chips or the other food. They were noisy, and as I approached I saw one young man urinating on to the pavement, while another was throwing stones at a garage door on the other side of the road, where there are houses.

And then I saw the face of an elderly woman looking out of the window of the house with the garage, and though I was a little distance away, she was clearly terrified. And so, to be honest not entirely without trepidation, I walked over to the stone throwing young man and asked him politely to stop. In fairness to him, he did. The woman’s face disappeared from the window. I stopped for a moment to talk to the teenagers, and actually they were quite friendly to me, explaining that they came here because they had nowhere else to meet. They didn’t mean to terrorise anyone, it was ‘just a bit of craic’ (fun, to those who don’t know the expression). I wasn’t really sure what else to do, so I just pointed out that they had frightened the woman across the road, and I walked on. I was quite relieved, because I knew well enough that this exchange could have gone very differently.

But we do need to ask ourselves what we are doing to provide places and facilities for young people. Do we now just take it for granted that they will eat and drink and urinate in public spaces? Or can we not find something better for them, and something better also for those who feel frightened by them? Is it really good enough for us, as a society, just to let this happen? Isn’t this much more important than the Taoiseach’s hoarseness?

Hallowe’en hangover

November 3, 2008

As I was driving through parts of suburban North Dublin this morning, there were signs everywhere of the activities of last Friday night. On green spaces all over the housing estates, there were the leftovers of bonfires; and it was not just the destroyed grass that could be seen, but the remnants of supermarket trollies, destroyed wooden fences, even burnt out cars.

As it happen,s this year before October 31st the usual terrorising of local communities was less noticeable, with far fewer fireworks going off in a manner calculated to frighten people; but there were incidents, including one where I saw a group of youths throw fire crackers into a small gathering of elderly people; and on the night of Hallowe’en itself there was, as we hear, significant trouble all round Dublin, with random acts of violence (including attacks on the emergency services) and now a clean-up bill running into millions.

Maybe Hallowe’en brings out the worst in us. Although the name is a reference to the ‘Eve of All Hallows’ – i.e. the night before All Saints Day on November 1st – its real origins lie in the Celtic pagan festival of Samhain, when there was thought to be a convergence of the physical and spiritual world, with the spirits of the dead rising. Still, generations of people celebrated it harmlessly, and it is only more recently that it, and the period preceding it, have become troublesome and intimidating.

There are, it has to be said, complex reasons behind all this, and perhaps chief amongst them is our apparent inability to sustain a positive image of society and community, so that the kind of ant-social conduct for which the second half of October has become typical is avoided. The particularly disturbing nature of this year’s ‘celebrations’ should prompt us to look urgently at what has gone wrong, and how it can be fixed. We should not just accept this as inevitable. It isn’t.