Brian Lenihan – what’s facing him
Ok so we lost Joe. And we miss him. We really do. At the Dail yesterday they all gave him a nod. Tony Gregory said the place wouldn’t be the same. It won’t. It will. But it won’t.
Fianna Fail are still in charge but Fine Gael’s muscles have gotten some electoral steroids. How hard will they punch? Not very, probably. It won’t be the same but it will.
One key difference, and one that we in Dublin West hope to benefit from, is the appointment of Brian Lenihan to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law reform. This blog is of the view that Michael McDowell was a man of merit as well as flaw; the most obvious being his tendency to hide his merits behind his flawed whoring of himself for publicity.
Lenihan is different. Expect a lower profile and at least the same level of progressive reform. He faces many challenges. The criminal justice system is a mess that currently jails twice as many people from the Irish underclass than our British counterparts.
Research shows that Irish crime is embedded in certain areas. Lenihan won’t have to go far to find them. His own constituency, Dublin West – Dublin 15 – is a great microcosm of suburban Ireland; a clear and growing divide between the gated, well trimmed gardens of Castleknock and the fenced and unkempt patches of Corduff, Sheepmoor, Mountview and Ladyswell.
This is one of the great challenges facing Lenihan and this government – how to reduce criminality and make these places nicer to live in. How to end the intimidation, rampant drug abuse and utter disdain for community responsibilty. Of course this can’t be done by the justice ministery alone – support will be needed from Health, Education and Employment. Do it right and crush the ganglands.
The other major point this blog will judge Lenihan on is prison. Obviously there are problems regarding smuggling things into prisons. It’s hard to see what harm a bloody budgie does but phones have to be a no-no. A blocking system will solve that. However he must resist calls by the showboating, vacuous tough on crime lobby to Lock Down prisons. One of the merits of the Irish system is the relative harmony between officers and prisoners; this is largely achieved by letting them mix freely. An end to this policy would sharpen the divide and make prisons more dangerous to live and work in.
Furthermore on the subject of prisons, urgent reform of child prisons like St Patrick’s is needed. The place is an abject failure that does nothing but teaches wild kids how to become wild adults. It is a disastorous institution, despite the efforts of staff; it has been undermined by a scandalous lack of funding from McDowell and John O’Donoghue before him. Shame on them for their ignorance. In fairness to Lenihan he set up a committee to assess the needs of Oberstown and Trinity House when he was Minister for Children. So the omens are good even if the history of the justice department is a history of injustice.
Adult prisons are also desperately in need of funding. Contrary to popular opinion, prisons are not home to lazy and depraved party animals who get fucked on cheap cider and slouch in front of plasma televisions. It is an indignity of the smelliest and lowest order to have to poo in a bucket and throw it down a drain. More education and drug rehab schemes are needed. Prison is often the first place people can get help to read and write; or get help to get off heroin. With this they have a chance of getting a job on release – without it they haven’t got a hope.
So hopefully Lenihan will at least try and sort some of these problmes out. Prisons should not be social dustbins. Put criminals in them, not messers, not the homeless or the mentally ill. I wish him sincere congratulations and good luck in his new post.