C: Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) & Nadine Shabaana (Unsplash)

Are we living in a more dangerous Ireland? 

As the New Year began, grief once again swept across one of our major cities, as flowers were laid outside the silent flat of a 28-year-old Brazilian national, Bruna Fonseca, in Cork City. The qualified librarian, who was working as a cleaner at Cork’s Mercy University Hospital, was found dead on Sunday morning, New Year’s Day.

She had been out socialising on New Year’s Eve, welcoming in a year no doubt filled with opportunity and plans and promise. Yet, just hours later, she was gone. At 6.30am the next morning, her body was found in her apartment; she had been beaten and strangled to death. Ms Fonseca had only arrived in Ireland a number of months ago; her former boyfriend (29) – also a Brazilian national – has now appeared in court and has been charged with her murder.

Ms Fonseca’s death brings the number of women who have died in violent circumstances in Ireland to 254 since 1996. Her death also comes shortly after CSO figures released at the end of the year showed a worrying and significant rise in the level of violent crime including murder on our island.

As we said goodbye to 2022, the stats revealed that the homicide rate has almost doubled over the course of the last year. 43 people died in unlawful killings in 2022 compared with 22 the previous year (2021) representing a shocking two-fold jump.

What is behind the surge? 

While 70 per cent of those killed in 2022 were males – 30 of the 43 victims – there was an increase in the number of women and children killed compared to previous years.

As has been reported in the UK, cases of domestic abuse and subsequent deaths have been on an upward trajectory since the beginning of Covid and associated lockdowns. The same has been the case here, with domestic violence orders in Dublin surging during the pandemic. In Northern Ireland, there was also a significant increase in reports of domestic abuse amid lockdown. In Ireland, the aftermath of the pandemic may have played a factor, and has resulted in warnings about a rise in domestic violence and abuse here. 

Has COVID and the lasting impact of associated lockdowns, along with the subsequent changes to the fabric of our society played a part? It certainly appears so – seeing as homicide rates here were on the decline prior to 2022. In 2019, prior to the pandemic, the UN’s Global Study on Homicide found Ireland had a homicide rate of 0.9 per 100,000 people, the 11th lowest homicide rate in Europe.

What’s clear is that, in this past year, Ireland has become a more violent place for men, for women, and for children – for all of us. There has been a significant increase in the number of homicides and other violent crimes across the board. With every news report and every hashtag, Ireland becomes a less safe place to live.

Homicides increased by 12 per cent year-on-year from September 2020 to September 2021, the CSO stats reveal, while there was a 20 per cent jump in attempted murders, threats to kill, assaults, and other related offences.

The number of unlawful deaths are now at their highest level since 2018; while, in previous years, a spate of deaths were linked to gangland crime, 2022 saw a disconcerting rise in killings of women and children, in cases where there were no links to criminality. Drug offences saw the biggest drop this year according to the Central Statistics Office (CSO), with 19 per cent fewer recorded drug offences year-on-year.

As reported here by the Irish Independent, the CSO stats show that there were also 23,229 recorded attempts to kill, threats to kill, harassments and other related offences in the 12 months up to September of 2020 – a figure which exceeds even pre-pandemic figures of 2018 (19,748) and 2019 (21,662).

The majority of other crime categories also increased during 2022 with “the highest rates of increase in Kidnapping & Related offences (+29pc); Attempts/Threats to Murder; Assaults, Harassments & Related offences (+20pc); Burglary & Related offences (+18pc) and Robbery, Extortion & Hijacking offences (+17pc)”, the paper reports.

Although men make up the majority of murder victims here, the number of women who have been murdered (11) is at its highest level since 2012. 2022 saw the violent deaths of Aisling Murphy, Sandra Boyd, Mary (Maura) Bergin, Ruth Lohse, Louise Mucknell, Lisa Thompson, Larisa Serban, Miriam Burns, Lisa Cash, Ioana Mihaela Pacala, and Sharon Crean.

Before 2022, the number of female homicide victims appeared to be decreasing; there were seven murders of women in 2021, and four in 2020. 13 of the deaths in 2022 – including two children – were female (30 per cent).

Another set of killings which shook the nation were those of Aidan Moffitt (42) and Michael Snee (58), two gay men who were believed to have met the man who is currently on trial – Yousef Palani – on a dating app. Palani had moved to Ireland in recent years, according to locals. 

There were also instances where a number of family members died together in suspicious circumstances, and where children were suspected to have been killed by family members.

In September, Lisa Cash (18) along with her twin brother and sister, Christy and Chelsea Cawley (8) were stabbed to death in their own home in Rossfield, Tallaght. Just five days later, the nation was again rocked by the deaths of two-year-old Michael Dennany and his sister Thelma (5) who died in a suspicious car fire in County Westmeath. On November 8, 11-month-old Vincent Donohoe became the youngest person to die in suspicious circumstances in Clonee, on the Dublin border with Meath.

Baby Vincent and his mum, Kate Donohoe, 44, were found in an upstairs bedroom of their home. The death was a suspected murder-suicide.

With every new killing, there is an unspoken sense that our society is becoming darker and more dangerous. The news is now filled with assaults, killings, and crimes of all sorts. There is a sense that murders have become so common that some barely make headlines anymore.

So where do we pin the blame? Large-scale societal breakdown? The erosion of morals, values, the belief in an objective ‘right and wrong’? A lack of respect for women? The decline of religion, a lack of respect for life? Our open door immigration system? A crisis in mental health? Lawlessness and poor sentencing?

I think all of these things come into play, but only some of the above are respectable to talk about openly. Only some can we admit have had a role to play in shaping an Ireland that increasingly looks like it is in tatters.

Criminal sentencing in Ireland is a problem which gets much less attention than issues like domestic violence and violence directed towards women. Suspended sentences and parole often take the place of strict sentences for those who commit the most heinous crimes, including murder, attempted murder, rape, and child molestation. Until judges in Ireland start handing out appropriate sentences for domestic abuse, assault and other offences, people are going to continue to die. It’s clear that a major reform of our judicial system is needed. 

The relationship between a rise in some crimes and immigration is also an issue which should be discussed  but instead is something you dare not speak about in modern Ireland for fear of facing accusations of bigotry and xenophobia. 

Or is the issue that our world is becoming more violent? Or are we simply being shown more violence by media, and hearing about more deaths because of the constant rotation of news on social media?

Societal breakdown and the erosion of morality is enormous, but will also be ignored because we so desperately want to be progressive and liberal and free from abiding by any standard of right or wrong. Is there a negative effective for ditching the morality which was in the ascendance when crime rates were lower? That is surely worth a discussion? But in the same vein, it seems that no-one can suggest that the decline in religion may have an effect on rates of violent crimes, or that with the decline of the family comes the decline of society. 

There is definitely a huge contradiction in how we see ourselves as a nation, and what’s really going on in our towns and cities. An increasing murder rate shows we are in trouble as a country. It’s time we face up to it. 

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