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Anti-social media… July 24, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Crime, Culture, Social Policy, Uncategorized.
1 comment so far

I’ve no particular interest in the Amanda Knox case. It appears both tragic, for all involved, and beyond any capacity for effective action by any but the Italian authorities. Which means that all comment appears superfluous, or at least vicarious. But what does interest me is the antagonism Knox herself has had heaped upon her.
For a taste of same just go to this thread here on Slate which discusses some of the relevant issues where the sheer vehemence of some is a sight to behold.

What’s most amazing is that they cannot possibly know. And it’s hard to understand the sheer rage directed against her.

An SBP piece from some months back noted that:

In Britain and Italy, much of the coverage seemed only tangentially related to the specifics of the case. Regardless of the outcome of the trial, it can seem as if she was condemned in the court of public opinion for two traits in particular: ‘weirdness’ and sexual assertiveness.

In relation to the first there is the sense that there is a generalised expectation of a ‘proper’ display of emotion in the aftermath of desperate events.

Much of that reaction lay less with the finer points of the evidence than with the widely-reported instances in which Knox seemed to act strangely shortly after Kercher was murdered.
The examples are legion: how she and Sollecito allegedly clowned around in the police station, she sitting on his lap and the two making faces at each other; suggestions that she turned cartwheels in the same police station; a conversation with one of Kercher’s friends in which the friend was quoted as saying: “I hope she didn’t suffer” and Knox allegedly replying: “How could she not? She got her [expletive] throat slit.”
In her book, Knox claims that the behaviour with Sollecito was the result of her shock at Kercher’s murder and her boyfriend’s attempt to ease her distress.

Moving beyond the specific one sees this in case after case where opprobrium is heaped upon families or individuals in families for supposedly lacking emotion. Given that we have seen deceitful floods of tears at press conferences from those who have been part of appalling crimes it is hard to seriously sustain the idea that that indicates anything one way or another. But it does suggest that – for women in particular – there remain concepts of propriety that are deeply deeply disenabling and that if there is a divergence from them the immediate assumption is of guilt.

I’ve met more than enough people in my time who have acted in good bad and plain old bizarre ways when faced with death (and ironically when relatives have died some of the oddest behaviours was from people unable – perhaps due to embarrassment – to actually even so much as ask how I or those around me were). I cannot imagine what it is like when faced with violent death, particularly murder and particularly when that occurs in one’s own domestic space. It’s not difficult to believe that a range of responses from the seemingly numb right through to outright mania are all possible and all would be – depending upon the individual – understandable.
Actually it raises the point that at one time Knox’s actions would have been regarded as a form of ‘hysteria’ (a loaded term at the best of times and one I don’t like for that reason) and therefore almost expected. Which only goes to prove that in some instances women whatever they do cannot come through such events without unreasonable criticism.

It’s also worth noting this, from Slate – again earlier in the year, which provides clues why people act in what others regard as atypical ways:

In the past decade, neurobiology has evolved to explain why victims respond in ways that make it seem like they could be lying, even when they’re not. Using imaging technology, scientists can identify which parts of the brain are activated when a person contemplates a traumatic memory such as sexual assault. The brain’s prefrontal cortex—which is key to decision-making and memory—often becomes temporarily impaired. The amygdala, known to encode emotional experiences, begins to dominate, triggering the release of stress hormones and helping to record particular fragments of sensory information. Victims can also experience tonic immobility—a sensation of being frozen in place—or a dissociative state. These types of withdrawal result from extreme fear yet often make it appear as if the victim did not resist the assault.

In relation to sexual assertiveness is part of this simply due to the following:

Knox, in her memoir and in the interviews accompanying its release, has been forthright about sex. She wrote that “I hadn’t sought out men because I was obsessed with sex, I was experimenting with my sexuality”. She added: “Casual sex was, for my generation, simply what you did.”
Those kinds of comments have produced some tut-tutting from somewhat unexpected quarters. An article last week in the New Yorker magazine, generally considered a bastion of US liberalism, pronounced such statements to be “a dispiriting account of prevailing mores”.

One can almost hear the finger wagging. One wonders though if it would be quite so censorious were it a man’s comment – indeed would it even be noted?
Though fair dues to the following:

That, in turn, brought other writers to Knox’s defence, at least as far as her sexuality is concerned. Feminist writer Jessica Grose complained in online magazine Slate that the person who had penned the New Yorker article was “primly upset that Knox wanted to have sex uncoupled from feelings” and noted: “Most women who have a few one-night stands don’t end up dead or embroiled in internationally publicised murder trials”.

And most most men neither.

Of course this isn’t entirely new, or in fact not at all knew. We saw aspects of this in relation to the O.J.Simpson case and so on. But social media perhaps allows for an immediacy of response.
I’ve often mentioned that one reason there is some credibility to my online activity despite using a pseudonym – not in the sense of I’m right or wrong, but that you know where I’m coming from and what my positions are likely to be – is that if I do comment people can refer back to a track record built up over the best part of a decade.
But I wonder can that also be problematic, that for some once they’ve made a statement however well or poorly thought through online they can be anchored to that and that it can define their responses subsequently. A sort of exaggeration of the ‘I’m never wrong and even if I am I’ll never admit to it’ effect in online debate. We’ve all been prey to that dynamic to a greater or lesser extent. Indeed it’s one of the great pities to me that certain people on here who took a divergent line from most of what is posted or commented on went over the top, because it is essential to have people who will point up errors or miscommunications.

And add to that emotional identifications which may or may not be appropriate given the proximity of those commenting to the events and it is easy to see how matters can veer sharply off the rails.

It appears, as ever, that the chaotic human responses – whether in terms of developing sexuality, or confusion in the aftermath of terrible events. The Slate article about new research in neuroscience which suggests reasons why there are divergent responses argues that those directly charged with looking after those who are victims of a range of crimes have to be retrained in respect of their perceptions, but in a way one would think that to some degree society more broadly needs retraining too.

What should be the Garda priorities? July 4, 2012

Posted by Tomboktu in Crime, Inequality, Justice, Society.

An Garda Síochána is conducting a public consultation as part of its preparation of a three-year strategy for 2013–2015. Have a look at how they frame the discussion with the first question in the consultation [the Gardaí use drop-down boxes with the numbers for ranking, but they don’t transalte to CLR’s website]:

An Garda Síochána has limited resources and is faced with a wide range of demands. In your opinion, what priority should An Garda Síochána give to the following policing areas? (Rank in order of priority – 1 being most important and 10 being least important. Each number can only be used once.)

  • Drugs (including importing, selling and taking drugs)
  • Public Order (for example, tackling drunkenness or rowdiness as well as anti-social behaviour)
  • Hate crimes (for example, targeting someone based on their race or sexuality)
  • Ensuring road safety (for example, preventing serious and fatal collisions, young people racing around in car etc)
  • Violent crimes (such as assaults rape, sexual assaults, and domestic violence)
  • Property crime (such as burglaries, thefts and robberies)
  • Criminal damage (for example, damage against your property, vehicle or graffiti)
  • Fraud (for example, computer and telephone scams or someone else using your identity without your knowledge)
  • Financial crimes committed by those working in businesses and large corporations.
  • Human Trafficking (for purposes of labour or sexual exploitation)
  • Now, even leaving aside the question of precisely how the responses to a public consultation will affect the choices the Gardaí make for priority areas (if, oh, 400,000 responses tell them they should make hate crimes based on race or sexuality the first priority, and the next highest priority is in the 100s of responses, will that put it to the top of the list?), isn’t that opening question just weird?

    Financial crimes presented as a separate category from fraud. And young people racing around in car — is it different when middle-aged people do it? All of the compenents of the drug trade lumped together without distinguishing those with power in the trade from those without. Anti-social behaviour — when it is not a deliberate political action — would seem to me to always be wrong, but drunkeness — if I don’t get rowdy or drive a vehicle — might not be, but the Gardaí have put them in the same category.

    I would like to know how they rank crimes where there are large numbers of potential and articulate “direct” victims (public order and property crime, for example) against crimes where the victims may indirect (the gardaí’s ‘financial crimes’) or smaller in number (hate crimes) or vulnerable (trafficking). And how do you rank any of the crime categories against the more-than-just-crime issue of road safety?

    I live in an area where the Chief Superintendent has gone beyond the legal requirements for county-based Garda Joint Policing Committees and holds quarterly meetings with residents’ associations and other local community groups in each of the areas covered by the individual stations across the Division. And he takes seriously the two questions of listening to concerns raised and reporting back. [Complaints about dangerous parking outside seven schools in the school rush-hours resulted in this response at the following meeting: They had checked the issue at all schools, and in two cases they agreed that the situation was dangerous, but in the others, just an inconvenience for a short period. They met the two school principals, and a letter went out to all parents at the two schools. A week later, some garda shifts were changed to have officers in place at both rush hours — that week, the gardaí spoke to drivers who tried to looked like they intended to park dangerously, told them to move on, and reminded the parents of the letter. The following week, the officers started issuing tickets, and 70 were issued in a month.]

    At one of the meetings last year, the Superintendent presented statistics on garda activity in the station’s area. Among the data on speeding traps set up, speeding offences detected, drunk and disorderly outside pubs, burlaries, damage to property, etc. were two tables on drugs operations. One operation was implemented by the local drugs squad, and targeted local dealers. The other was an operation implemented by ‘beat’ and community gardaí and was targetted at the buyers. Up went a table showing the number of stops and searches in public spaces in the hunt to catch users with stock for their own use. That number over a year was in the high hundreds — I think it was between 700 and 800. But the total number of detections was in two digits. I made myself unpopular with a pair of questions: First, was it an effective use of resurces to stop and search so many people with so little crime detected for it? Second, what mechanisms did they have to ensure that the stops and searches did not work to alienating young men from the disadvantaged estates in the station’s area?

    The current Garda national questionnaire does provide space to expalin your views, although some of the options you get appear to depend on the choices you make in previous questions. It would seem to be a bit difficult, but possible, to use the survey to present the kind of conerns I raised at the meeting. But I am minded to ignore some of the questions and say what I want to say anyway.

    And in fairness, it is refreshing to get the opportunity to say that financial crimes need a bit more profile in the Gardaí’s work, although I am deeply uncomfortable having to rank that ahead or behind concerns like human trafficking or hate crimes.

    If you would like to add your views, mosey on over to http://www.garda.ie/Controller.aspx?Page=9358

    Eight statistics May 20, 2010

    Posted by Tomboktu in Crime, Crime, Ethics, Inequality, Inequality, Ireland, Justice, Rights, Uncategorized.

    I think the eight numbers in these two lines say so much. They are from an Irish Times story on Monday. The ‘he’ is Fr Peter McVerry.

    … there had been 3,183 prosecutions for welfare fraud, worth €43 million. This had led to 48 people being jailed for 12 years in total, he said.

    Yet in the same period there were only 39 prosecutions for tax evasion worth €2.25 billion. These led to six people being jailed for a total of 3¾ years.

    We need a graph to illustrate that. And I hope they form the basis of lots of submissions to the Department of Justice’s consultation on crime.

    Irish Left Review Podcast… with criminologist Dr. Paul O’Mahony. November 12, 2008

    Posted by WorldbyStorm in Crime, Irish Politics, The Left.

    A real coup on the part of the Irish Left Review in the form of an interview with progressive criminologist Dr. Paul O’Mahony.

    Alex Klemm has written an introductory piece and the podcast is available here.

    Two cheers for Brian Lenihan: Campaigners force movement on trafficking January 17, 2008

    Posted by franklittle in Britain, Crime, Feminism, Sex.

    Last year saw some celebrations and historical commentary on the fact that 2007 marks the two hundredth anniversary of the abolition of slavery. To be more accurate, it marked two centuries since the Slave Trade Act of 1807 outlawed trade in slavery, not the possession of slaves, which would not finally come to an end until 1838, and even at that the trade was only outlawed within the British Empire, leaving vast swathes of the world to continue the practice.

    But laws and collections of commemorative essays fail to conceal that slavery is alive and well. According to Europol, human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal business in the world, ranking only behind the trades in illegal drugs and arms. Make no mistake. Slaves are currently held in Ireland. They are, for the most part, women though they include children and occasionally men.

    In Britain Operation Pentameter last year rescued more than 80 women and children, including ones as young as 14, from sex slavery and made 200 arrests. In July 2007, a BBC undercover team exposed a Bulgarian child trafficking ring, which habitually used Cherbourg to Rosslare and then over the border into the North as a way of getting children into Britain. An unnamed Garda officer quoted in the report told the BBC, “You’d have to be naive to think children had not been trafficked through Ireland.”

    In August 2007, the Welsh Assembly published a report on trafficking, which referred to, “an increasing trend for children to arrive via smaller airports or in Wales by ferry from Ireland.” In October a study carried out at NUI Galway claimed to have identified 76 women trafficked into the sex trade in Ireland from Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia and South America. Ruhama, which provide supports to women involved in prostitution, has estimated a more accurate figure to be around 200.

    One of the defences of slavery in the 19th century was that as the slaves were considered valuable property, they were likely to be treated well by their owners lest the investment be lost. No such defence can be made around the modern day slave trade. British police have identified numerous cases of women trafficked into Britain in the belief they would be working in legitimate jobs only to end up, in one case, being forcibly raped by between 30 and 40 strangers a day. The British Crown Prosecution Service has identified a case where a trafficking victim was the subject of a slave auction in the coffee shop in the arrivals hall of Glasgow International Airport while brothel keepers bidded on her. Trafficked women who resist are likely to be beaten or their families in their home countries threatened.

    And if the women are rescued, they are often liable to be deported as illegals without any consideration of the risks facing them when they return. A New Internationalist investigation into trafficking a couple of months ago identified cases where women arriving off flights in their home countries following deportation were met on arrival by the same criminal gang that had trafficked them in the first place.


    Information about trafficking is hard to come by. There are no Health and Safety Inspections. The victims are often too scared to co-operate or are scared of the very authorities they would normally report to. Some might even decide that being a slave in Britain or France is better than being free and starving in Moldova or Ukraine. Language and cultural difficulties, shame, fear of being imprisoned and the closed nature of criminal activity in general makes hard and fast statistics hard to come by.

    The official government position is that there is no evidence of a significant human trafficking problem in Ireland, though in recent months this has shifted ever so slightly to an acknowledgement that that it could become one of it is not addressed. Curiously, despite the fact that there is no ‘substantial human trafficking problem’ since his appointment as Justice Minister Brian Lenihan has moved pretty swiftly.

    In October, he published the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Bill 2007, which for the first time would make the trafficking of people aged over the age of 16 a crime with a maximum sentence of life. As well as making trafficking an actual offence it provides anonymity for trafficking victims and the power to exclude the members of the public from court proceedings where publicity might place the victims of trafficking, or their families, at risk. As well as making it illegal to traffic someone for sexual or labour exploitation, it makes it illegal to do so for the harvesting of vital organs. A pleasant reminder of the world we live in.

    But Minister Lenihan was not done yet and announced a number of other measures with the legislation. A High Level Group to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings was set up, tieing in government departments, the Gardaí, immigration and various NGOs. The Group will put together a National Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings.

    It’s all good, and a tribute to groups like Ruhama, the ICCL, IRC, Migrant Rights and Amnesty who have campaigned on this for the last couple of years that the government feels forced to take these initiatives for something it claims to believe it not a significant problem. So, why only two cheers for the Dublin West TD?

    The major weakness of the Bill is the lack of supports and protections for the victims of trafficking. The Bill is designed entirely from a law enforcement point of view. The needs of the people, predominantly women and children, that are being trafficked are notable by their absence despite the physical and psychological abuses they will have suffered. There is no legally mandated time to recover from their traumatic experience. Immediately deporting trafficking victims makes it all the harder to convict traffickers, and all the more likely the victims will end up either back in Ireland, or trafficked elsewhere. It also means there is little advantage for trafficking victims to come forward to the authorities if they know the ‘reward’ is a one-way trip home to meet the criminal associates of the people they just put in prison in Ireland.

    While he acknowledges the gap, Lenihan argues this will be dealt with in the government’s forthcoming Immigration, Resident and Protection Bill. Three problems with this. Firstly, the Bill hasn’t been published and likely won’t have been published by the time the trafficking legislation goes through the Oireachtas, so even if it does deal with the issue, how do we know it deals with it adequately? Secondly, he chances of the Bill getting through all stages between the start of February and the long summer recess aren’t great. At the rate the Oireachtas is currently going the likelihood of the Bill being passed in 2008 wouldn’t be great, so what happens between the passing of the trafficking legislation and the new immigration bill.

    Finally, the debate on the new immigration legislation is going to be a big one. It’s going to be heated, on both sides of the fence, and the victims of trafficking could easily get lost in the maelstrom. On Dáil Committee Stage of the Bill, Labour’s Pat Rabbitte and Fine Gael’s Denis Naughten both movement amendments designed to deal with this and though Lenihan refused to take them, he did seem open to the possibility of an ‘administrative arrangement’ being contained in the trafficking bill to deal with the gap between the trafficking bill and the immigration legislation. It’s something worth keeping an eye on.

    The Garda Policing Plan 2008 is also a disappointment. There is only one reference to trafficking in the entire document, where a commitment is made to a 5% increase in intelligence-led operations against drugs, guns and human trafficking organisations. Elsewhere in the same section, the phenomenon is referred to as illegal trafficking in immigrants, which is something substantially and clearly different to the trafficking of slaves. There is also no reference in the plan to Operation Pentameter II, the sequel to the British plan mentioned above which is to include the Gardaí.

    Still, as serious as these problems and gaps are, and the difficulties should not be underestimated, the government has moved substantially in the last few months on the issue, largely because of the work of activists in various NGOs, especially migrant and women’s groups. The fight’s not done, and there’s been a lot of progress, but two centuries after William Wilberforce ‘abolished’ slavery, they’re still smuggling, trading and abusing women and children all across Europe tonight.

    Iran still stoning women to death January 15, 2008

    Posted by franklittle in Crime, Iran, Judiciary, Middle East.

    Stunned to hear people being interviewed on Matt Cooper’s Last Word this evening about the practice of stoning, which it turns out is still alive and well in Iran. Amnesty International has just published a report highlighting the cases of nine women and two men who are under sentence of death by stoning at the moment and as grotesque as the notion is to my mind, it’s the little things about the process that are the most horrifying.

    Article 104 of the Iranian Penal Code specifies the kind of stones that should be used. They should, “not be large enough to kill the person by one or two strikes; nor should they be so small that they could not be defined as stones.” In other words, we need stones big enough to really hurt someone, but not big enough that they die or lose conciousness. And we’re going to write that into the law. As Amnesty put it, “In Iran stoning is not against the law. Using the wrong stone is.”

    Under Article 102 of the Iranian Penal Code, the process begins by digging a pit for the victim. The pit is then filled in to waist height for a man, and to chest height for a woman. I wasn’t sure of the reason for the difference, but perhaps it is to be found in one of the defences used by the Iranians to explain stoning.

    In September 2007, the Secretary General of Iran’s Human Rights Headquarters and Deputy Head of the Judiciary defended the use of stoning by arguing, among other points, that in stoning, “the defendant has the chance to survive.” So a man is buried to his waist and a woman to her breasts and if, under a hail of stones, either one of them manages to climb out (Let’s pause for a moment to consider how unlikely this is) they’re free to go. Hence, perhaps, why the woman is buried to her chest.

    According to Amnesty one of the most recent stonings was in 2006:


    “Abbas H and Mahboubeh M were said to have been executed in Beheshteh Reza cemetery, part of which was cordoned off before more than 100 members of the Revolutionary Guards and Bassij Forces carried out the stoning. Abbas H and Mahboubeh M were reportedly washed and dressed in shrouds, as if they were already dead, and then put in holes that had been dug in the ground. Following a reading from the Qur’an, those present began to stone Abbas H and Mahboubeh M, who reportedly took over 20 minutes to die. They were said to have been convicted of murdering Mahboubeh M’s husband, and of adultery.”

    Speaking of convictions, the sentences for some of those awaiting this punishment are an interesting insight into Iranian judicial priorities. One woman, whose name is Iran, was sentenced to five years imprisonment for being an accomplice in the murder of her husband, and to death by stoning for adultery. Another, Kobra N, sentenced to eight years imprisonment for being an accomplice in the murder of her husband and for sleeping with someone outside of her marriage, death at the hands of stones ‘not large enough to kill the person by one or two strikes.’ So for being involved in killing your husband, you face less of a sentence than having slept with a man other than your husband.


    There’s some more information in the report about Iran’s less than perfect judicial process and the work of women activists and journalists within Iran to end this atrocity, which can only be applauded considering that country’s approach to political activism.

    Never mind the statistics just feel the…er… feeling. John Waters has looked into his heart again…. October 31, 2007

    Posted by WorldbyStorm in Crime, Media and Journalism.


    I’ve had no reason to write about John Waters recently. Not entirely sure why, a couple of weeks back he wrote something I strongly agreed with which was pleasant. But with the inevitability of cold in Winter one need merely wait for the next outburst and this week he’s back on top form. The subject is… murder and…er… ‘modernisation’.

    There is a point, one can never be sure at what stage but it exists nonetheless, where the most able contrarian tips seemingly inexorably into being a curmudgeon and/or grumpy old man (or woman as the case may be). Christopher Hitchens, his near unimaginable brother Peter, Cohen, Dawkins, Greer. All have moved from one state to another. We can plot their progress on charts, but somehow that doesn’t quite indicate the fearsome energy of their trajectory. Sadly I fear that point was some ways back in the case of JW and that he has joined this glittering host.

    One of the features of this process is the way in which an idée fixe develops. In Dawkins case it is that if one says loudly and with great repetition that God doesn’t exist this will somehow sway people from some heavy duty cultural and social conditioning. Well… I guess it’s an idea. In Cohen’s case it is that the Saddam regime was the clearest manifestation of fascism since Germany in 1945 and therefore had to be dealt with in precisely the same way. Genius, perhaps you’ll agree. With JW it is that every problem of the contemporary period is the responsibility of ‘modernisation’. What is fascinating is that JW tends to take the opposite tack from Dawkins – where one depends upon logic and rationality, the other has recourse to the wildest shores of the relative and the emotive.

    So, to our columnist…

    Experts, by definition, are conspirators against common sense…

    The thought struck me last week in the middle of a radio debate with a criminologist on the subject of Ireland’s apparently (note my careful layman’s qualifier) accelerating murder rate. The first two items on the news at the top of that morning’s programme concerned violent killings, but this did not in any way dilute the criminologist’s determination to prove that murder is a media invention.

    I made a crude sketch of comparison with New York City, where the homicide rate is now, following a massive spike in the 1980s, back to roughly where it was in the early 1960s. Less than a half-century ago, murders in Ireland were in single figures. This year, to date, there have been 60 homicides, and it is likely that the final 2007 figure will be 1,000 per cent up on when I was a boy.

    There is a problem here. Is 60+ a 1000% increase on the early 1960s figures? Well, we’ve looked at these before, haven’t we. Because those figures were not quite in the single figures JW proposes. Between 1960 and 1965 they were for each successive year, 6, 13, 12, 5, 14, 12. Single figures in only two years. It gets worse. For the rest of the decade they remained above 12 and went up to 57 by 1974. [all figures are from The Village]

    The expert, pursuing a familiar line, sought, in a series of increasingly fatuous arguments, to deny the validity of this telling comparison. I wasn’t allowing, she said, for the distinction between murder and manslaughter. The population of New York had fallen since the early 1960s. Irish juries had been reluctant to convict for murder while the death penalty remained in place. Far from having a murder crisis, she insisted, Ireland remains one of the safest, most violence-free places in the world.

    I didn’t hear the interview, so I cannot tell whether this is a fair summation of the criminologists spiel. But, mention of New York is bizarre. Is he seriously making a comparison between a country of 3 to 4 million people and a city of many millions more? Is it possible to make a direct comparison between state and city? Between widely different sociopolitical and cultural backgrounds? And yet he appears to be doing so. And with no apparent irony considering the way in which he later denigrates those who try to propose international comparisons…

    I do not need statistics to tell me that there are many more murders happening in Ireland today than when I was growing up. My sense that this is so has nothing to do with media hype or over-reporting. It is an impression gleaned in the same way as I glean a myriad of other impressions about the society I live in. It is based on what we used to call common sense.

    But what does this mean, this recourse to ‘common sense’? A gut reaction? Looking into one’s heart? I don’t know, and I’ll hazard the guess few others do either. Consider the murder rate post 1974 when it jumped to 57. It then fell back to the 30s and has bumped along between 19 (1986) and 66 (2006) with peaks in 1997 (53), 2002 (59) and a drop to 46 in 2004. That is a considerable volume of murders. Each is a tragedy in its own right. But the problem is that it’s not – in international terms – anywhere near the top of the pile.

    But why look at the statistics? As John Waters says…

    Of course, Irish crime statistics are notoriously inadequate, and it is difficult to make precise comparisons between one country, or one era, and another. But, even allowing for the imprecisions of the available data, the general, approximate picture is stark. Moreover, that general statistical picture reflects what we had just been hearing on the news – what we have been hearing on the news for quite some time now. Looked at year-on-year, the figures appear to support these persistent assertions that the public have been bombarded with an exaggerated view of rising crime. But when you survey the graph of criminality climbing inexorably since the 1960s, it becomes clear that the public’s growing sense of the matter is well founded.

    Unfortunately this simply isn’t accurate. Crime statistics regarding murder are not inadequate (note though the subtle shift of terrain in the paragraph above – no longer does he discuss murder but ‘criminality’, a much much more diffuse creature). A rise – inexorable or not, and it has fallen even in the recent past – is not exponential. Population increase alone would suggest that there would be a rise.

    To requote Vincent Browne:

    In 1983 the population was around 3.5 million; it is now over 4 million. The headline crime rate in 1983 per 1,000 of the population was 29.3. The rate in 2006 was 26. And throughout the period from 1983 to 2006 the rate per 1,000 of the population was have been either static or in decline.

    But why mention that troublesome point? Or consider that at historic points the graph went up in a way that links the figures to various processes. The North. Drugs. So on. So forth. And this ‘growing sense’. Let’s think about that. What he seems to be saying is that some cumulative multiplier effect kicks into action. So we’re back on the territory of ‘feelings’.

    Nor is it difficult to make comparisons between one country or one era. Otherwise why would JW have wasted 860 odd words on the subject, since if comparisons are difficult to make then common sense or not we have no basis for assessment. But that’s part of the process, because JW doesn’t want to accept the evidence from around the world. Doesn’t want to accept that all, while not exactly well, is not quite at the deluge stage. And hence the inevitable turn inwards. It is a problem, because I say it is a problem. Solipsism becomes the philosophical underpinning of the day.

    And it is solipsistic, because curiously he makes no mention of the fact that between 1927 and 1938 inclusive the murder rate was generally as high or higher than it currently is. Perhaps the past is not quite as uncomplicated as he thinks, perhaps his parents might have had a word or two to say about the remarkable drop to single figures (now and again) during the 1950s.

    But wait… it’s not all about murder. Perhaps for JW it’s not even about murder, since he argues that:

    It is interesting to speculate on the motivations of these “experts”. Superficially, you might decide that they prefer to be saying something unexpected rather than something obvious, and so will continue to promote an exotic theory even in the face of overwhelming evidence. There’s no doubt that these specialists tend to have a contempt for the media, which they regard as pursuing an unscientific approach to reality. But perhaps the most significant factor is that, as a consequence of our way of educating them, experts tend to subscribe, in the manner of a faith, to a modernising ideology which, in an involuted and perverse way, regards criminality as a backhanded compliment to the robustness of the progress agenda. In a certain skewed sense our culture tends to regard rising crime rates as evidence that we are becoming like “other modern societies”. Murder and mayhem are therefore not merely inevitable but, in a certain sense, provide reassurances that the modernising project is unfolding correctly.

    The problem is that the experts are right, and JW is sadly incorrect. There is nothing ‘exotic’ or ‘unexpected’ in saying that murder in this society is, while a genuine problem, still remarkably limited. That in comparison to other societies at similar levels of development it is low. That for the general populace the dangers of intersecting with it are remote.

    To argue that theirs is a ‘faith’ when it is he who refuses to look at the statistics and draw their lesson is an assertion of remarkable … well, fill in your own word. To then say that they only do this because of some ill-defined link to ‘the modernising project’ (why yes, that pesky Enlightenment and its concentration on the Rational. How modish that must be some x centuries later) is to pile oddity upon oddity.

    To then say that those who are actually expert in the field are incorrect because of a ‘feeling’ is to move, despite the rhetorical and lyrical flights of fancy, the language wrapped in prose that is close but unfortunately not quite there with Zizek (which only goes to prove that even if one does move into the thrall of psychoanalysis or pseudo-psychoanalysis a good strong materialist education in Slovenia while part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is no harm), is to move to a situation where the rational is dismissed. It’s magical thinking. No more no less.

    So, we have an article, so lacking in context, social, political or historical as to be essentially nothing more than a simple attack upon ‘modernising ideology’ and the ‘progress agenda’.

    And – in fairness to the criminologist and others, who exactly are we to compare ourselves against other than ‘other modern societies’? Does South Africa give us greater cause for comfort? Brazil? Perhaps Somalia? Afghanistan?

    I’m not trying in any sense to downplay the cruelty and pain that accompanies murder. It is a crushing demeaning blow, the antithesis and yet somehow also a core part of the human, and something that our fictions play with too lightly. But it happens. It has happened and arguably it will continue to happen. We can, and must ameliorate it as best as is possible (look at the figures for murder in the domestic context, as Vincent Brown did at the weekend, which vastly outweigh gang on gang murders).

    But this isn’t about preventing it, instead we are treated to a hastily assembled attack on ‘modernisation’. That societies change. That technological and social change has been rapid across the 20th century. That that 20th century saw waves of murders as high as the present period and in a population that was much smaller. That we have also seen the proliferation of drugs and arms. That our Gardai have – to my mind – actually managed to hold the line as a largely unarmed police force in this society rather well. That we had the irruption of an unstable and illegitimate polity a mere hundred miles or so to the North (a tricky one that because how to interpret the conflict there? Hard not to see that as a deep frozen history thawing far far too rapidly – but that’s not modernity, or one of the complaints of same, surely?). That change happens because we’re humans. Not one of these matters. Instead the straw man of ‘modernity’ is dragged out for yet another thrashing.

    And even were ‘modernisation’ to blame. Or those who propose ‘modernisation’ – and while he doesn’t say that he sails close to the wind. How on earth are we meant to empirically engage with that? Shut down the libraries? Turn off the television? Turn back the clock?

    The Waters of Jiving at the Crossroads has seemingly vanished. The Waters who gave us An Intelligent Persons Guide to Modern Ireland has apparently left the building. Both were interesting and useful works. Both contained a humanity and a sense of humour about the travails and triumphs of living in a complex society undergoing – as all societies do – continual change. Now we have a one-note attack on ‘modernisation’ that has become so sustained that I fear there may be a book on the topic in the works. One has to wonder when we’re going to start hearing some proposals for solutions instead of assertions that are factually and conceptually incorrect.

    Our last, best hope for civil liberties September 13, 2007

    Posted by franklittle in Crime, Ethics, Ireland, Irish Labour Party, Irish Politics, Judiciary, Sinn Féin.


    Yes, it’s Sinn Féin. I am as astonished as you are, and I am being a little tongue in cheek, but it is worth noting just how little commentary there has been on Gilmore’s Prime Time interview last Tuesday night and the implications it has for the traditional position of Labour as a defender of civil liberties and human rights.

    Gilmore was being interviewed about the murder of Donna Cleary in March 2006, and specifically the failure of anyone to be charged in relation to her death. Cleary was killed while attending a 40th birthday party when a man refused entry to the party earlier sprayed the house with gunfire. The identified shooter died in police custody a couple of days later but according to reports there is insufficient evidence to positively identify or charge the two men who were in the car with him.

    Gilmore was interviewed by Mark Little, possibly following up on the speech he made at the first hustings for the Labour deputy leadership contest, his first major speech since his election, where he emphasised freedom as a core Labour value, defining it as freedom from criminal activity  and gangland crime. Nothing hugely controversial in his speech but perhaps slightly odd for the Labour leader to lead off with that topic, something one might have expected to be more likely to be a Fine Gael speech. But then, maybe that was the point.

    During his interview Gilmore made two interesting points, both of which suggest a change in Labour criminal justice policy. The first was his statement that ‘membership of a violent gang should be a crime’, claiming that this is the case in the United States and Canada. This is something McDowell considered, but ruled out in 2003 arguing that such measures were unconstitutional. It was also something addressed by the Bar Council in its submission to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality and Law Reform on the Criminal Justice System and Organised or Gangland crime. It is worth quoting in some detail:

    “It is also worth observing that when charges of membership of an unlawful organisation are brought the organisation referred to is invariably an organisation in respect of which the Government of the day has made a Suppression Order. The organisations involved are paramilitary groups, oath bound, operating under a Constitution and Standing Orders. In contrast those involved in organised crime or gangland activity would usually be much more informal, much more unstructured and much more unregulated in nature. The obstacles to creating such an offence such as being a member of a criminal gang are very considerable and probably insurmountable.”

    The DIrector of Public Prosecution, in his submission,  warned such measures “…would  amount to a weakening of the jury system…” and in Section 18 of his submission points to a number of technical difficulties with such a measure.

    In fairness, common sense should be kicking in by now. How do you define an organised gang? Do you have to specify the gang in legislation? Could we end up with someone charged with the offence of being a member of the ‘McCoy’s tavern gang’? Comparisons with the US and with Canada are false in firstly overstating the gang problem we have in Ireland, but also in misunderstanding the gang culture. Gangs in the US identify themselves through colours and body art. Gangs in Ireland identify themselves chiefly through extended family connections. It is possible, even for someone whose knowledge of gangland in the US extends to watching cop shows, for a person to identify gang members in Los Angelus or New York, but not in Dublin.

    As for the right to silence, well here we have a basic principle of the criminal justice system stretching back hundreds of years that is even now under assault when it comes to subversive or terrorist offences. If the suggestion by Gilmore is to restrict the right to silence so that an inference can be drawn by the refusal to answer questions, as is the case with suspected paramilitarism, again we are back to people being members of designated and clearly distinct organisations that have been specified in law.

    As the Irish Council for Civil Liberties put it:

    “The right to silence is crucial to the most fundamental principle of our legal system – the presumption that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. It is an essential protection for people who have already suffered the trauma of being arrested and find themselves in the unfamiliar and frightening surroundings of an interrogation room.

    “Even the strongest personality can become alarmed and confused in such circumstances. Nervous and vulnerable people and those who are drug or alcohol addicted can easily break down and admit to things they never did. We should learn the lessons of the Birmingham Six, The Guildford Four and Judith Ward cases in Britain. And we have had our own examples of false confessions in the recent past in the Sallins and Kerry Babies cases.

    “Restrictions on the right to silence combined with longer detention periods is a sure-fire recipe for a number of wrongful convictions that will eventually damage confidence in the justice system…”

    So, what’s Gilmore up to? Well to an extent he is killing two birds with one stone. He is trying to reconnect with Labour’s working class vote, located in the estates that see the worst of this kind of violence, and at the same time move the party to the right. A far cry from his call for an alliance of the broad left in the previous leadership election.  He is indulging in the same dishonest macho posturing that characterised the McDowell era of criminal justice, which I have previously described as ‘never mind whether it works, look at the poll numbers.’

    In other words, it doesn’t matter whether making membership of an illegal organisation is a good idea, unconstitutional or even technically possible. It sounds good. It makes Eamon Gilmore look tough, a bit hard. It doesn’t matter if the right to silence is a basic civil liberty there to protect citizens from the actions of the state. It sounds good. It makes Eamon Gilmore look like one of those Dirty Harry, hard boiled TV cops shouting ‘Damn your procedures Captain, I want justice’ as he takes on the racially different drug kingpin.

    At one level, this is not out of character. Labour have supported a number of McDowell ‘Don’t get tough on crime, appear tough on crime’ measures such as the discredited and largely unused Anti Social Behaviour Orders and the retention of emergency legislation. But the party has always had an image, a connection with those who have argued for civil liberties, largely because when they chose to do so, they were alone in that. What does it say about the new Gilmore Labour party, that even this has changed?

    And Sinn Féin’s role in all of this? Well at this point they’re the political party arguing most strongly for protections against Garda abuse, for the maintenance and extension of civil liberties. As I said before, “The Shinners, and Aengus Ó Snodaigh in particular, are excellent on civil rights issues in Leinster House and in opposing McDowell’s criminal justice legislation, but the party’s support for the IRA’s campaign make it hard for many to accept Sinn Féin as defenders of human rights.”

    But with the IRA shuffling off the scene, are they now the party to look to for the defence of our hard won and greatly under threat civil liberties.

    The banality of the banality of evil as discussed in the Irish media… Crime Part 2 July 25, 2007

    Posted by WorldbyStorm in Crime, Culture.

    So… Been away a couple of days, far enough away to discover that the term Internet enabled apartment can cover a multitude of situations in a town where there has been a power blackout that has knocked out routers. Anyhow. Due to this, posting is, and may remain, a tad erratic for the next week or so. If only because all my information on the Senate Elections etc, has been from the Irish print media, laudably same day, not quite so laudably thin on analysis, oh and information…

    On foot of my thoughts about crime there are two interesting pieces last week, one from Scientific American and the other from the Irish Times, both attempt to consider the nature of ‘evil’. And the interesting thing is that the supposed ‘right-wing’ Michael Shermer appears closer to a ‘left’ interpretation than UCD Clinical psychologist Marie Murray. But then Shermer is, like many of us on the left, ultimately a man grounded in materialism (although he might not quite describe it that way) and rationality.

    Murray writes about the:

    …gangland killings. There are premeditated murders. Men are massacred. Bodies are found in freezers. And we are, allegedly, and not without irony, one of the safest societies in which to live?

    Actually, yes, yes we are. She continues…

    This begs a most unpopular question. This introduces an antiquated word: one so politically incorrect, so incongruous in a secular world, and dissonant with societal discourses that it is difficult to articulate. But it is time, perhaps, that it was said. The word is “evil”. And the question is: “Are the acts described above evil?” If they are not evil, what are they? What clinical categories or what psychological rationalisations can we provide to explain and contain these behaviours at this time?

    There are a raft of unsubstantiated points. For example:

    Clinically we know the negative impact of violent pornography….Whereas acts of extreme cruelty were once considered to be the aberrations of the depraved, the deviant and the deranged few, they are now presenting so routinely that “the banality of evil”, as described by philosopher Hannah Ahrendt, that image of evil in pure pedantic form, seems to be making itself visible and it is not a pretty sight.

    and then onto:

    That good people can act in cruel and callous ways, depending upon context, was confirmed by the research of Philip Zimbardo in his famous Stanford prison experiments…If Nazism had not already convinced us of that, more recent images from Abu Ghraib prison must surely do.

    Now we’re hitting top speed:

    Most cultures have a concept of evil and words to describe it, although our postmodern world is increasingly scornful of ideas of good and evil. Radical relativism has replaced the notion of evil with the paradigm of perspective, whereby ethics are relative and “truth” is what you believe. Entitlement to live one’s life, primarily based on one’s own concept of right, irrespective of the rights of others, is increasingly valorised. And we have to ask if the rights of the paedophile should outweigh the rights of the child? Should the rights of the rapist outweigh those of the women he rapes? …..Because many who have experienced attack feel further violated by a society that too often frees perpetrators to offend against them again.

    and into the home stretch:

    Ask any ordinary person who has been a victim of violence in all its multifarious forms if evil exists and they will tell you that it does. They know. They have encountered it…..But unless we are prepared to acknowledge its existence, in the individual, in the collective, in the perpetrator, in the community and in those who stay silent before it, then people will become more anxious, more depressed, hopeless and suicidal than they already are. Society has been stabbed. It is wounded…Psychotherapists may have a duty to be non-judgmental but they have an equal duty to consider if political correctness is serving society well. They must ask if they have categorised, codified, labelled and pathologised every act to the extent that there is a rationalisation for every atrocity and reluctance to name any behaviour as wrong.

    with just a parting thought to upset us…

    For whatever bedevils our society today, it is bringing misery to far too many.

    Now, away from boring stuff like statistics, which demonstrate crime hasn’t increased, has if anything somewhat dipped, one has to ask is this a case of Murray being too close to the wood to see the trees (and perhaps it is telling that the superheated rhetoric comes from one who works in the area of student counselling)? Because she deals, as a clinical psychologist, on a daily basis with extremely harrowing instances of misery, does this in any real sense represent the society? If I want to be anecdotal I can point to Irish society being much ‘happier’ in some respects now than twenty years ago when I was just 20 or so. There were good reasons for that unhappiness. An economy that was shot, elites that had completely resigned themselves to a dismal future, a cowed and embittered working class and so on and so forth. Now I look at a society of admitted flaws, but also enormous strengths. Why is she overstating the situation? Why indeed?

    Furthermore she plays into the narrative on crime with the rather mealy mouthed: And we are, allegedly, and not without irony, one of the safest societies in which to live?

    But let’s look at the article again, because, for all it’s modish references to Ahrendt and Abu Ghraib, it is just one more run through the ‘post-modernism and political correctness is the root of (literally) all evil’ spiel. And it is to be honest extremely reactionary in what it implies – if not in what it says. What evidence is there that the rights of victims are lesser than the rights of perpetrators – I’m not arguing that there are not imbalances in certain areas, one can point to sexual crimes as being an exemplar of that, but beyond that what is Murray calling for? What is the evidence that moral relativism has any place in our legal system, or indeed in the overall structure of our society on any meaningful level – if anything surely the contrary is true in a context of hyperbole about the incidence and spread of crime? What is the evidence that the release of offenders (often after processes which those of her own profession are engaged in to make determinations as to the suitability of such releases) is ‘too often’ followed by attacks – it wouldn’t take much to find out, a simple look at levels of recidivism would suffice. Which element of political correctness does she mean – are not racist or sexist comments also ‘evil’, is utter (often ignorant) frankness an unalloyed virtue? What is relationship between the volume or incidence of the crimes Murray points to and ‘evil’ – surely a society with one crime alone could see that as the most egregious ‘evil’, as distinct from a society such as our own where crimes are committed on a regular basis? This sort of gives the game away really, because would Murray write of ‘evil’ in this context say in a situation where crime rates were descending? Most unlikely.

    Which leads to the question as to whether the term ‘evil’ has any utility in these discussions. I’m not afraid to use it, but I’m not sure it takes us any further than we’ve gone before.

    I simply don’t believe her when she says that ‘radical relativism has replaced the notion of evil with the paradigm of perspective, whereby ethics are relative and ‘truth’ is what you believe’. I think the examples she gives are rather thin. One does not need recourse to the concept of ‘evil’, a concept which is so nebulous as to be largely unusable. While it might give a certain satisfaction to brand someone ‘evil’ what does that tell us in any meaningful sense about what that means and what we should do about it? Post-modernist thinking and relativism haven’t whittled away my ability to be able to distinguish right and wrong, or to determine a moral and ethical position on various issues which strike me as a better methodology than ‘knowing and encountering’ evil.

    Already in the Irish Times today there was a letter from a psychotherapist:

    While I believe that being non-judgmental towards my clients is a prerequisite for my work as a counsellor/psychotherapist, this in no way clouds my judgment or belief as to whether a particular action is right or wrong. I try not to judge or condemn the person, whatever their actions. How else could I work with them ?

    How else indeed? But this, although a fine line, points up the difficulties implicit in the Murray thesis. Should a psychotherapist spend sessions with a criminal berating them for their ‘evil’ or attempting to bring them to some self-awareness of what they have done? How does this concentration on the concept of ‘evil’ assist in this context?

    Turning to Scientific American we see many of the same references and points discussed, but frankly in a more engaged fashion.

    Shermer notes that:

    The photographs of prisoner abuse from Abu Ghraib shocked most Americans. But social psychologist Philip Zimbardo had seen it all 30 years before in the basement of the psychology building at Stanford University, where he randomly assigned college students to be “guards” or “prisoners” in a mock prison environment. The experiment was to last two weeks but was terminated after just six days, when these intelligent and moral young men were transformed into cruel and sadistic guards or emotionally shattered prisoners.

    He continues:

    As he watched the parade of politicians proclaim that Abu Ghraib was the result of a few bad apples, Zimbardo penned a response he calls the Lucifer Effect (also the title of his new book from Random House), namely, the transformation of character that leads ordinarily good people to do extraordinarily evil things. “Social psychologists like myself have been trying to correct the belief that evil is located only in the disposition of the individual and that the problem is in the few bad apples,” he says. But, I rejoin, there are bad apples, no? Yes, of course, Zimbardo concedes, but most of the evil in the world is not committed by them: “Before we blame individuals, the charitable thing to do is to first find out what situations they were in that might have provoked this evil behavior. Why not assume that these are good apples in a bad barrel, rather than bad apples in a good barrel?”

    Zimbardo looked at Staff Sergeant Ivan Frederick who was the military police officer in charge of the ‘most abusive’ blocks in Abu Ghraib. A model soldier, a self-defined patriot, church attendee, when Zimbardo had him assessed by a clinical psychologist it was clear that Frederick was neither sadistic nor had pathological tendencies.

    As Shermer notes:

    To Zimbardo, this result “strongly suggests that the ‘bad apple’ dispositional attribution of blame made against him by military and administration apologists has no basis in fact.” Even after he was shipped off to Fort Leavenworth to serve his eight-year sentence, Frederick wrote Zimbardo: “I am proud to say that I served most of my adult life for my country. I was very prepared to die for my country, my family and friends. I wanted to be the one to make a difference.”

    Shermer comes to some interesting conclusions: First, it is the exceedingly patriotic model soldier—not a rebellious dissenter—who is most likely to obey authorities who encourage such evil acts and to get caught up in believing that the ends justify the means.

    I think this is important. It is the ability to ‘normalise’ ‘evil’ and place them within a given context that is enormously dangerous and points to the ability of any to become involved in such acts.

    Second, in The Science of Good and Evil (Owl Books, 2004), I argued for a dual dispositional theory of morality—by disposition we have the capacity for good and evil, with the behavioral expression of them dependent on the situation and whether we choose to act.

    Here is a thesis quite divorced from the Murray “evil is out there… an evil evil that is underpinned by relativism” thesis and instead recognises that the capacity for good and bad is in all of us and is located clearly within societal and social contexts and constructs. That doesn’t diminish personal responsibility, doesn’t preclude the choice of some of the most negative path possible in a life. But it does at least pull us back from the unknowable.

    I’ve never been terribly interested in books about murderers because to be honest it has always seemed to me to be eminently explicable. Strip away social convention, fear of retribution, empathy and so on and sooner or later, in one circumstance or another it will be possible for someone to kill another. And here is the problem. I don’t feel any need to bundle up the various components of that process in the term ‘evil’ to know that that murder is wrong.

    I certainly don’t need to see the term used inchoately as a gratuitous whipping boy against the contemporary period.

    And I’m absolutely certain it has nothing at all to do with post-modernism or relativism.

    The O’Reilly case and the Irish media July 23, 2007

    Posted by franklittle in Crime, media, Media and Journalism.
    1 comment so far

    Today, Joe O’Reilly is beginning his life sentence in the Midlands Prison in Portlaoise following his unanimous conviction on Saturday evening bringing to an end an almost three year campaign for justice by the family of his wife, Rachel, whom he murdered in October 2004 at their family home. Outside of his Mother who still insists on his innocence, there can be few people not glad to justice being done, who are not satisfied at the result.

    It also brings to an end one of the most interesting intersections of crime and media in Irish life that we have seen over the last few years. There have been no murders, no crimes, in recent Irish history that received similar levels of media attention not merely over the course of the trial, but in the years since the murder took place.  There were 66 murders or manslaughters in 2006, 54 in 2005 and 45 in 2004, the year Rachel O’Reilly was killed.

    Some achieved a limited prominence in the media such as the murders of Baiba Saulite, Anthony Campbell, Dennis Donaldson or Donna Cleary. Most, the victims of inter-gang warfare in Limerick or Dublin, were forgotten by all but their families and the Gardaí after a fortnight. None achieved the prominence of the Rachel O’Reilly murder. In only her case has the victim achieved such a status that she is regularly referred to in the media by her first-name only.

    I have been trying to remember over the weekend when I became aware that her husband was the killer. I don’t read the Evening Herald, which was to the fore in identifying him as the killer, and I didn’t follow the story when it cropped up elsewhere in the media. Yet at some point I became aware that it was ‘known’ who the killer was. A consensus had emerged not in the corridors of the Irish media, but at watercoolers and dinnertables across the country long before O’Reilly was arrested and charged with the crime.

    Writing in the Sunday Tribune yesterday, former Evening Herald crime correspondent Mick McCaffrey, made a number of interesting comments. The Herald, and McCaffrey in particular, probably wrote more about the trial than anyone else, and were the first and the most vociferous in pointing the finger at the husband. I find what he says about the appetite for news about the murder interesting:

    “Every time the murder appeared on the front page of the Herald, sales went through the roof. The amount of times Rachel’s photograph was splashed on the front page of the paper became a bit of a running joke among journalists and ordinary members of the public…..

    “We eventually got permission (To show pictures of O’Reilly in handcuffs after this arrest) and the frontpage poster edition was one of the biggest-selling copies in years.”

    Why was this murder so different? At one level it had a couple of things we’re not used to in Irish murders. It had a clearly identified guilty party at an early stage. The story was less about ‘who’ killed Rachel because we ‘knew’, but about whether he would be caught. The steady closing in of the net around O’Reilly contributed to the build-up in interest. It also had sex in O’Reilly’s affair with Nikky Pelley.

    But was there something else? A number of weeks ago Tomás Ó Siocháin, TG4’s Programme Editor, began a speech on the media by reading out five names, the last of which was Madelaine McCann. The first four, only one of which I vaguely recognised, were the names of four children of similar ages who have disappeared in Ireland over the last two to three years. “Why,” Ó Siocháin asked, “are we able to remember some victims and not others?”

    He pointed to the distinctions between the McCann case and those of the other children, many of whom were the children of immigrants. Madelaine was white, female and pretty. Her family, those advocating and fighting on her behalf, were middle class, English speaking and media literate. The media, once identifying a story for which there seemed to be unlimited interest, became fixated on it to the detriment of other stories that might have had a better news value.

    Can the media obsession with the O’Reilly case be explained similarly? Is this at the heart of why the murder of Donna Cleary, a working class single mother shot by a gangland thug, is more important than the murder of a middle-class married woman by her husband? Is it the reason why the murder of Baiba Saulite, an immigrant to this country and a single mother, by gangland figures allegedly operating on behalf of her estranged husband is slowly being forgotten?

    And if so, what does it say not merely about the Irish media, but about those of us who consume it?

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