The Gardai are very busy at the moment, of course, with Covid 19 duties meaning that their force is spread thin across the country stopping people in their cars to ask them where they are going, as well as fining people at the airports, and on the beaches, and just about anywhere else you can think of.

Is it just about possible, then, that their eyes are not exactly on the ball when it comes to their primary function? The Irish Times isn’t the first to notice this, but the fact that they are noticing it is notable by itself:

The State faces “losing control of a whole section” of Dublin if drug-related violence and intimidation in the north-inner city are not stopped, Taoiseach Micheál Martin was warned on Friday.

He heard people living in the area fear engaging with statutory agencies for fear of reprisals from drug dealers, that parents have been threatened with knives when bringing their children to crèche and residents are afraid to go to their local shop.

The other difficulty, not mentioned in the Irish Times piece, is the extent to which some violence in Dublin is becoming racialised. There is, for example, huge anger in the Brazilian community in Dublin over a perceived tolerance for abuse and violence towards (mainly Brazilian) Deliveroo drivers by gangs of teenagers. Gript understands that there is a perception in that community that this anger played a part in the recent murder of a teenager in Dublin. Elsewhere, gangs of young African-born men and women are regularly involved in clashes with other gangs in parts of Dublin. Not all of the violence is drug related.

But back to what the Times did report: Residents in fear of going to the shops. Mothers threatened when bringing children to preschool. Members of the public too afraid to engage with state agencies. Inner City Dublin sounds more like post-war Baghdad than a modern European Capital City.

One of the problems here, if we’re honest, is that the Department of Justice is not remotely focused on this kind of thing. To the extent that the Department has a legislative focus for its energies, that effort is going into hate speech and hate crime legislation. To the extent that the budget is being spent, Garda overtime and resources are going into protecting beaches from lone wanderers, rather than protecting mothers bringing their kids to school.

The problem, of course, is that in the long term, when there’s a vacuum of authority in an area, new, extra-judicial authorities spring up. Take away effective policing, and you end up with a usually brutal form of community policing. When the RUC lost the trust of the nationalist community in Northern Ireland, for example, the IRA stepped in, and drug dealers (as well as many innocents) found that instead of arrest and prosecution, they ended up being kneecapped. As for Dublin today? Well if you’re being pushed around by a gang, and not protected by the authorities, the only rational course, sometimes, is to form your own gang.

A state that loses control of a community like this will face decades of struggle to win that community back. And a lack of law and order doesn’t just mean a lack of law and order; It ultimately means that those who can afford to flee those communities will do so, leaving only the poorest, who cannot escape, behind. When the rule of law breaks down, so does prosperity, and opportunity. Four decades after Tony Gregory’s inner city renewal, we’re looking, in real time, at inner city destruction.

It would be one thing, incidentally, if there was some political incentive to let this happen. That would still be bad, but it would at least be explainable. As it is, huge numbers of voters are seeing, in real time, a complete failure of Government in their own areas. Just as young people are being radicalised into gangs, so are older, formerly middle of the road voters, being radicalised towards more extreme political ideas, both on the left, and on the right.

So, what’s the Garda response, you might ask? Here it is, and it doesn’t inspire confidence:

“An Garda Síochána has a comprehensive policing plan in place in Dublin’s north inner city which will see high visibility patrols carried out on a daily basis, with a particular focus on the areas where public order and related offending has taken place in recent weeks,” he added.

“There will be outreach and information programmes, run in a number of different languages, for all communities, as well as youth justice and other interventions.”

If this was just about drugs, by the way, as the Irish Times says, why would the Gardai need to use various different languages, and meet with groups from “different communities”? The statement itself reveals that there’s more to it than drug dealing.

In any case, whatever about languages, what, exactly, is the benefit of the Gardai segregating people into “different communities”? If this softly-softly approach has even the remotest chance of working, the very first thing that should be done is that these “communities” should not be treated as different and distinct. If you’re living in Dublin’s inner city, and you want to be a Dubliner, then you come to a meeting with your Dublin neighbours – be they of Irish, Brazilian, Nigerian, or any other descent. By dividing them into groups based on their “community”, the Gardai are actually perpetuating division, not solving it.

Anyway, that’s the state of play in 2021. You can’t leave your house, but gangs can roam the capital, terrorising the population. And if they’re honest, not one of our leaders has a clue how to deal with it.