A few weeks ago, in broad daylight, outside one of Waterford city’s most popular tourist destinations, a man punched a woman during an altercation which went on for 10 to 15 minutes.
To witness a grown man thumping a woman in the face was, to be blunt, shocking.
After all, you don’t expect to see fists flying on the street at any time of the day, but particularly in the morning, which was when this particular event occurred.
A call was made to Gardaí to alert them as to what was going on, but the fighting had ceased and the troubling group in question had dispersed before an officer was on the scene.
It’s worth pointing out that there have been persisting problems at the area in question for the guts of two years at this stage.
From drug taking to drug dealing, to drinking, urinating and abusive language, this area – which is adjacent to The Quay – is rarely visited by an officer on the beat.
Now this can be stated with confidence given this column’s daily proximity to the area in question and the fact that many of those calls to Ballybricken have been made by this dialling finger.
Zero tolerance was a meaningless couplet of words thrown into the 1997 general election campaign by John O’Donoghue, who promised a crackdown on criminality were Fianna Fáil returned to power.
Like much of what the Soldiers of Destiny promised over the years, zero tolerance was, to coin a De Valera-ism, “an empty formula”.
It was nothing more than a useful, print and airwave friendly soundbyte that possessed no substance and no meaningful policy position to back it up.
From this column’s perspective at least, the establishment of the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) in 1996, incepted by the Rainbow Coalition, was the last serious attempt to nail the scum intent on wrecking our society.
Now, one could argue that people ‘throwing digs’ on a street is a far cry from the ‘Gangland’ situation, but in the overall context of law and order, there is a connection.
If we allow a culture where people feel they can do what they want irrespective on how it impinges on the lives of others to develop, then disorder is an inevitable by-product.
Whether we will readily acknowledge it or not, this is an issue that’s affecting virtually every rural and urban neighbourhood in this county and region.
Only last week, I learned that a person who recently visited one of the county’s best known hotels, returned to discover his car had had all four of its wheels removed.
Over the years, cars parked at Woodstown Beach and Mahon Falls in the Comeragh Mountains, have become the subjects of regular break-ins.
And despite repeated calls for people to refrain from leaving valuables in their vehicles at either location, the message doesn’t always register.
Don’t get me wrong: the fault lies with the goons breaking into the cars as opposed to their owners, but we as ordinary citizens should always keep our thinking caps on wherever we’re headed.
Estates throughout the city have endured their fair share of woes in recent months, much of which we’ve reported on in these very pages. And let’s not shoot the messenger here: if it’s going on, then we have a responsibility to highlight it.
There has been an enormous level of concern expressed by residents across several different estates in relation to the “living hell” that has been created by just a handful of families.
Living next to someone who has no regard for their neighbours, who sees nothing wrong with blaring music, all-night parties and a whole lot worse, is a dreadful intrusion on the lives of law-abiders.
To try and address this issue personally takes great courage, because there’s no telling what firestorm you’re bringing upon yourself by walking next door and asking them to cop the hell on.
The chances are that any such neighbour will (a) laugh at you and tell you where to go or (b) make life even worse for you by cranking up both the intimidation and the volume.
Which begs the question: how severe are the disincentives we have at our disposal to put the scumbags in their place?
Given persisting anti-social problems and the national plague of repeat offences, you’d have to say our approach is nowhere near as hard-hitting or draconian as it needs to be.
Being “tough on the causes of crime” was one of Tony Blair’s domestic political slogans during his British premiership. A little like zero tolerance, the sentiment didn’t translate into daily life as the New Labour spin doctors would have had you believe.
But there is something to be said with respect to translating that slogan into action. The debate over whether our Gardaí should be armed will, I suspect, be side-issued during the general election campaign such is the political and media obsession with the banks. It shouldn’t be.
Now the Guards weren’t armed during the height of the Troubles, at a time when the security of the State was certainly under greater threat than it is currently.
But with respect to this jurisdiction, the level of sophistication and weaponry now at the disposal of country’s most dangerous criminals is off the scale when set against the 70s and 80s.
Those high-end thugs had to make a criminal start somewhere – be it shop-lifting, breaking and entering or just being a general public nuisance.
If three criminal offences of any kind led to an automatic jail term, one wonders how the mentality of the offender would be altered.
Those who terrorise communities need to feel the anger of those same communities through the rigours of the law that govern us, and if that means writing new ones, then let’s get them written.
After all, the frighteners should put up the goons – rather than up you, I or any of our neighbours.