My thoughts and prayers this week are with the Barry family as they come to terms with the senseless and brutal death of Paddy Barry, who sustained fatal injuries during a vicious attack at his home in the city last week. His grandson, well known illusionist Keith Barry, has been very vocal in the media over the past few days about the inadequate laws that seem to allow sickening crimes like this to go relatively unpunished. He made the point that the law seems to favour the rights of the thug over the homeowner and law abiding citizen. Many people currently have elderly relatives living independently and, should we live, we all face being in the shoes of a vulnerable pensioner. So Paddy Barry’s death resonates with everyone. What have we become as a society and how have we allowed the creation of such feral monsters that seem to roam around, terrorising freely without reprimand or conscience?

I was speaking with a local Garda over the weekend and he told me of the threats that he has received when arresting youngsters in Waterford. While I had heard stories of such intimidation I had never before heard it directly from the horse’s mouth. When he repeated the threats issued to him as he arrested one particular guy, my blood ran cold. If it was a line from some violent American gang movie it would have been chilling, but to think a teenager from Waterford could be so graphically evil about a man’s wife and small children is beyond my comprehension. It is too horrible to even print here.

If these people have the capacity to carry out such threats then we should all be very afraid. This particular Garda told me he had become used to such behaviour and that you couldn’t let it frighten you. As I walked away I considered that our Taoiseach is currently contemplating cutting the salaries of such public servants. Maybe Brian Cowen and Brian Lenihan should wear a uniform for a week and let them walk a nasty mile in the shoes of the ordinary Gardai, in an ordinary town in modern Ireland; but that’s for another day’s debate.

I’ve known and know some fairly wild people. They’re irreverent, they party too hard, some, even in their forties, drive their cars too fast. In the past they’ve fallen down drunk in the street, been thrown in a cell overnight and have even been involved in a few fistfights; but they are decent people. They love life, a little too much at times, and wouldn’t willingly hurt anyone. Most of the petty trouble they have been involved in was drink fuelled and nuisance making rather than criminal.

A different breed

Today’s young thug seems to be an entirely different breed. There’s a coldness, a spirit of total disrespect for anyone and anything, a fearlessness, a propensity for violence and this is often married with a lack of education and low IQ; a very dangerous blend indeed. While they are prepared to do whatever it takes to get whatever they want, they don’t seem to have the intelligence to realise the havoc they are wrecking.

The crime is futile on so many different levels and appears chillingly blood thirsty. How much cash do any of us hold in our pockets or our homes anymore? As for valuables, again the elderly don’t keep the sort of goods these vile individuals are looking for. They are not looking to fence valuable antiques or artwork, they want electronics such as Ipods, laptops, and mobile technology that can be turned quickly into cash. Again I doubt if Paddy Barry or many of the elderly have such toys.

I am convinced that poor parenting leads to much of the problem. When you see gangs of youngsters hanging around causing mischief, you know that a parent somewhere has no idea what their child is up to. Sadly, the truth is that some parents wouldn’t care even if they did know and this is a big part of the problem. What sort of household must you come from and what sort of abuse must you witness or be victim to as a child and young adult to turn you into a callous thug?

While I acknowledge that some people from decent homes can fall into bad company, we still have to look at what caused the company to be so bad. Please don’t mistake this for a bleeding heart mentality; it is not. I believe that the perpetrators of such awful crimes should be held fully responsible and face accountability regardless of age, background or circumstance. If they are deemed too young then the parents should be punished as well. However, I also acknowledge the research value in knowing what causes this kind of behaviour because it is certainly not the norm. We all have the capacity for good and evil, but much of the time nurture over nature creates the moral values we possess.

Justice system is lacking

The other issue lies very much with our justice system. There are still communities in the world where such wickedness against the elderly would be front page news for a month. In Ireland, we seem happy to accept that it is just one of the nasty side effects of modern, progressive life. It doesn’t have to be. We need to stand up and demand zero tolerance, not in the New Year as the minister is quoted as saying, but immediately. Burglary, whether the homeowner is home or not or youthful or elderly, should be considered an intolerable offence. Indeed any violation of the home, such as Tiger kidnappings, should also fall under such consideration. Possibly the reason the current Minister for Justice is slow in implementing something new is that he doesn’t have to worry about such things. He has protection at all times. The rest of us don’t and even when we go away, the safety of our homes is a concern.

I still can’t quite understand how people who commit horrendous crimes can be picked up and then released while a ‘file is being sent to the DPP’ it even sounds lenient and ineffective. Some years ago I had a chequebook stolen and fraudulent cheques were cashed. The culprits were caught because, as it turned out, they were well known to the Gardai and, at the time of stealing my chequebook, they were awaiting trial for a more serious assault case. What were they doing out and about? It’s hardly the case that they were holding down a job! If you know you are going down for something, while you are waiting there is little to deter you from doing something else. Meanwhile if you are already in a criminal apprenticeship then a spell in prison is worn like a badge of honour. The more emotive side of me says that we should do more than just jail these people. They should be put on the back of an open back truck, with a large sign stating their crime, and driven around the city. Let’s see how brave they are then.

It’s time for a change. While it is of little consolations to the Barrys this week, maybe Paddy’s tragic passing will be the catalyst for such action. Maybe it will give every decent, moral individual in Waterford a reason to stand up and say ‘no more, there is no excuse or tolerance for such thugery on any level; be it verbal intimidation, violence, theft or burglary’. I hope for the Barry’s that they will focus on the nice memories they have of their Dad and Granddad and maybe take comfort from the fact that he will never again have to be afraid in his own home. It is very sad, that such is the consolation for a bereaved family in a supposedly civilised society.