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The disgraceful DART attack sentence

Often, when we write or talk about crimes, we have to rely on third party accounts of what actually took place. The nature of violent crimes, for example, is that they tend to be put back together by means of witness statements, forensic evidence, and so on. It’s not very often that we can look at exactly what happened, and make up our own minds. In the case of the attack which ended with a young woman falling under the wheels of a Dart in Howth in April last year, though, we can actually watch it all for ourselves. Let’s do that. Sorry about the dumb music in this video, it’s not mine:

Now, here’s RTE’s account of the process which led to the prosecution of one of these lads, and his sentencing yesterday.

Investigating gardaí obtained directions from the Director of Public Prosecutions and charged three people aged 17 with violent disorder.

One of them had an additional charge for assault causing harm to the girl knocked off the platform; his case has been separated and sent forward to the Circuit Court for trial.

Judge Paul Kelly held the two other boys had peripheral roles and he accepted jurisdiction for their cases to remain in the Dublin Children’s Court.

They pleaded not guilty and were convicted after the case went to a full hearing earlier this month.

Judge Kelly held there was a clear threat of violence, and also the footage showed lunging, an attempt to “bodycheck”, several were making gestures, and one of the youths made physical contact with the witness as she tried to get to the train.

Sentencing of the co-defendant, who swung his foot at the girl’s head, was adjourned for a month.

Here’s a question: Watch that video above, and ask yourself which of the youths involved was most responsible for the girl falling under the train? Is it the fellow who swings his boot at her head? He causes her to move towards the platform. Is it the fellow in the red jacket, who lunges at her, like a thug? He causes her to shift her trajectory suddenly, and dramatically. Is it the guy behind, who seems to leave his bike in her path, so she has to dodge it and lose her balance?

Or does it matter? It’s a matter of pure luck, after all. The truth is that they’re all to blame. It was a group activity. Any one of them could have caused her to fall. Any one of them could have killed her or caused life changing injuries, had things gone wrong. The girl did not fall because one of them went further, or did something worse, than the others. She fell because as a group they managed to panic her and cause her to lose her balance.

And they did that for fun.

A few months ago, after the horrific murder of Ashling Murphy in Tullamore, the Minister for Justice pledged – and I quote – “zero tolerance” for crimes of violence and intimidation of women. This is as clear cut a case of male intimidation of a woman as you are likely to see, and hey presto, the first one sentenced “escaped a custodial sentence” in the immortal words of the national broadcaster.

It has been clear for some time now that Ireland has a thug problem, and that it is particularly prevalent in the cities. Barely a week goes by without reports of precisely this kind of intimidating, jackass behaviour directed at people on our streets. Last week we had a fistfight at the airport. The sentence in this case is part of the reason for that: We have a justice system which does not take seriously the safety of the public.

The people who perpetrated the acts in the behaviour above were actively endangering and threatening their fellow citizens. They caused someone to come closer than any of us would ever want to come to the wheels of a train. Before that, they intimidated several other young women. They are, by all accounts, nice middle-class boys when they are at home with Mammy.

That means, by the way, that they’re exactly the cohort that a custodial sentence might actually deter. If you want negative behaviours to stop, there must be negative consequences for it. In front of judges, lawyers are always pleading the consequences for their clients – “he’s young Judge, his whole life ahead of him”.

Isn’t that precisely the point? Isn’t that the punishment? Give a few of these young thugs a lasting criminal record that means no jobs at nice law firms for them, and no J1 visa in a few years, and maybe some of them might think twice. Most young people with their whole lives ahead of them, at the end of the day, don’t behave like this.

And, of course, we have no compunction doing that in other areas. Imagine if these lads, instead of intimidating a young woman at a train station, had instead stolen somebody’s onlyfans photos? That happened last year, and our intrepid Minister for Justice leapt into action to ensure that those who do it in future will go to prison. When it comes to sharing porn without paying for it, we’ll ruin a few lives. Don’t pay your taxes, or don’t wear a mask into the shops during lockdown, or illegally import garlic, and you’ll be sent to the clink. When it comes to causing someone to fall under a train? Nada.

It’s not a Justice System, really. We need Emer Higgins on the job.

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