Thursday, 26 May 2016

Ignore failed policy: Internment is not the answer to stopping drug related crime. Liberalising our drugs laws is.

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If you listen to journalists talk on radio or read their columns, you'd get the sense that they really hate this gangland feuding. These 'thugs' who think they're 'above the law' represent an existentialist threat to the 'law-abiding people of Ireland'. But if we look at the media as a monolith, they seem to absolutely revel in it. Nothing greases the wheels of the printing presses quite like a gangland feud. Tabloids can publish the stupidest and most unsubstantiated drivel their reporters can concoct and pass it off as news. 

Just today, the Daily Mirror ran with a front page story about how the INLA were involved in the shooting earlier this week of Gareth Hutch, nephew of crime boss Gerry 'The Monk' Hutch. One source claimed, "The INLA have always been seen as cold-blooded killers - if they are involved expect more killings." They continued, "Most of these fellas are psychopaths. They'll say they have a cause but they'll kill for money." Hmm. They make it sound like the blurb on the back of a B-grade DVD about. Not to be outdone, the Evening Herald published an "exclusive" story on how The Monk has been spotted drinking in a number of inner-city bars in Dublin while his crime empire is being smashed to pieces by the Kinahan gang. They even claim that he was asked to leave one bar because bar staff were worried that his presence might attract Kinahan hitmen. Yeah. Right. They expect us to believe a couple of bar staff are going to tell The Monk to beat it. Allied to these exaggerated and fear-baiting stories, many of these newspapers, including broadsheets such as the Irish independent and the Irish Times, decided to publish a video of Gareth Hutch's death on their websites. Any ethical concerns posting the gruesome death of a man would have posed were emphatically trumped by the level of internet traffic those newspapers expected to attract, I suppose.

Still, most of the voyeuristic coverage has been par for the course. Nothing more or nothing less than we've come to expect when these gangland feuds become national stories. At least, that's what I thought until I read Ivan Yates' column in the Independent today. The article is entitled "Bring back internment and show Kenny, not Kinahan, rules the streets of Dublin." I think that title should be enough, actually. In fact, the first three words, "Bring back internment" should be enough. No need to expound on the idiocy contained within...

Unfortunately there is though. In response to the escalating gangland violence, Ivan Yates wants to arrest people and detain them without trial for an undetermined (he doesn't mention it in the article anyway) amount of time. He wants to violate every human rights treaty we've ever signed, every EU human rights directive or regulation we've ratified and seriously impinge on a precious civil liberty. Here are the most incriminating paragraphs in my eyes -  

The Garda lost far too much of its expertise in allowing a top-tier of management to retire. It could scarcely afford to dispense with such a reservoir of experience and expertise. Somehow, a way must be found to have these senior officers redeployed, if only on a contract or temporary basis.

Secondly, there can be no legal impediment to going after the murderers. If this means a temporary reintroduction of internment to target a specific category of criminal, then Kenny should not be squeamish about doing so. The gangs are staking out their turf, so it is time the State took it back.

The international dimension must not be excluded. It is too easy for Irish criminals to go abroad and amass massive fortunes and live rock-star lifestyles without the law laying a hand on them or their billion-euro assets.
They must not be able to live with impunity on the Costas. Countries like Spain, which is the favoured destination for these killers, must be seen to do everything they can to make even the sunny Costa del Sol a cold place for cash-rich criminals.

There is a proud tradition within Fine Gael of being the party of law and order but the Blueshirts are in danger of falling behind.
So, to reassert themselves as the "party of law and order", Fine Gael are going to have to effectively suspend the law. That makes perfect sense. Back to Yates' argument though, what happens after you intern these criminals? Judging by his comments in the third paragraph, he's not after the small fry hanging around the streets of Dublin, but the big guns who run the operations. Does he suggest interning them? Interning men who are worth millions of euros and can afford the best solicitors money can buy to defend them in court. Would any evidence collected against them be admissible in court if they've been interned indefinitely? And how long should we intern them for? A week? A month? Reintroducing internment would be an absolute legal minefield. 

Because that's the thing about human rights. They're not pick and choose. They're supposed to be insuperable. No matter how detestable, how contemptible somebody is, we all agree, on paper anyway, that they are entitled to some very basic rights by virtue of being human. Article 9 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights states, "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile." It's become quite trendy recently to shit on human rights, to act like they were some utopian, hideously naive set of rules concocted by some overly idealistic nobodies decades ago. But they were pieced together in the aftermath of World War II, undoubtedly a nadir for humankind. They were supposed to reflect our newfound sense of morality and respect for each other. And while they have been trampled on by almost every state since then, that is no excuse for us not trying to abide by them now, particularly when the introduction of internment would represent such a flagrant violation of them. 

But back to Yates. I must say, I love how he talks about a "reintroduction" of internment. We've never used internment to combat gangland violence so when he's talking about 'bringing back' internment, he must be referring to the use of internment by the British Army against Republican paramilitaries in the early 70s, right? I mean, it's either that or the de Valera government's use of internment way back in the 40s. Let's presume he's talking about the 70s - How did that go again? Oh right, terribly. Scores of innocent men were interrogated and tortured by British soldiers and the action did nothing to stem the tide of violence in the North. As an officer of the Royal Marines put it, "It (internment) has, in fact, increased terrorist activity, perhaps boosted IRA recruitment, polarised further the Catholic and Protestant communities and reduced the ranks of the much needed Catholic moderates"

Now, Northern Ireland in 1971 and Dublin in 2016 are very different places, of course. The Catholic community were already isolated from and alienated by the Northern state and internment merely exacerbated this, or, as former Provisional IRA volunteer Tommy McKearney put it, it made Catholics "so outraged with it and with the sovereign authority in London that a rapidly growing number of its members were preparing for armed insurrection, while many of the less militant were withdrawing consent to be governed". One of the main grievances regarding the introduction of internment was that initially it exclusively targeted republicans and did not target loyalist groups until 1973 (and even then the number of loyalists interned pales in comparison to the number of republicans). Such a situation will not arise were it to be introduced now, naturally. The social and political context is entirely different. But the fact remains that internment inflamed the problem in Northern Ireland and it could well inflame the problem in Dublin too. Advocating for the resurrection of a policy which so blatantly failed seems absurd.

Naively perhaps, I had presumed that Yates would be alone in his advocacy for internment. I was wrong however. Former detective chief superintendent John O'Brien was on Today with Sean O'Rourke on RTE Radio 1 this morning and, when queried by O'Rourke on whether or not he thought internment should be introduced, replied;

"Absolutely, I would certainly go there as part of a continuum of measures on an escalating scale from the position we are now where we just can't find a way of putting sufficient bodies on the street to using the anti-gang legislation, to using the parallel offences against the state act where the opinion of a senior officer with suitable safeguards would be sufficient to nominate somebody as a member of a criminal gang because, even Paul Williams is saying, we know everybody who's in the gangs."

"At the end of the day we should be able to put the people we know, and who we are able to demonstrate to a legal standard, are involved in this out of circulation and out of society because if we don't do that, Sean, the killing will continue." 
Amazing, really. I guess the first question I'd ask would be this; if the Gardaí are able to "demonstrate to a legal standard" that somebody is part of a criminal gang, then why is internment needed at all? But what I'd really like to ask O'Brien and any others who point to internment as a solution is this - is there any other country where it has worked? And by 'worked', I mean is there any other country (or city for that matter) where internment has been introduced and resulted in a long term decrease in drug related crime? Any city where it's wiped out drug-related murders? You could introduce internment tomorrow, capture the kingpins behind the Kinahan empire and lock them up and throw away the key but would that deal with the problem of drug related crime in Ireland in the long term? Of course not. The Kinahans aren't some boogeymen, betrothed with some magical evil powers. They're a criminal gang exploiting an unworkable system of prohibition which makes drugs a precious commodity in a captive market. If you wiped them off the face of the earth tomorrow somebody else, or some other group, would quickly replace them. 

So how do you get rid of them and ensure no one replaces them? You take away their market of course! David McWilliams elucidated on this point wonderfully earlier this week (coincidentally in the same newspaper as Yates' article) in an article entitled "There's a very easy way to destroy murderous drug gangs for good." Again, I'll just copy and paste a few snippets of his article rather than reciting it myself - 

Here’s the reality. The war on drugs has failed. What we have now is not the “war on drugs”, but the “war of drugs”, where the profits central to the drug trade are controlled by a small but violent knot of mafiosi whose illicit cash gives them their power. Take the cash away and they’ll have no power.

The war on drugs has failed by any logical economic metric. There are more drugs now available than at any time in human history. Prohibition doesn’t appear to have had any material impact on drug use. The “war on drugs” has driven the price of the drugs upwards, making it a very profitable business. When the business is illegal, contracts are not enforced by law but by brute force and murder.

Prohibition always attracts criminals because the prohibition itself creates the business opportunity. Prohibition drives up profits by driving up the price. This is exactly what we saw in the USA during booze prohibition. Prohibition was a godsend for the mafia.

Similarly today, as the profits rise, more and more people are enticed into the business and deeper and deeper drug networks are forged, starting with the small-time dealer selling locally, right up to the big guy trading internationally.
His critique of our anti-drugs policy is well-worn and not groundbreaking but it is worth repeating again and again and again before something actually changes. What does McWilliams himself advocate anyway? 

When drugs are legalised (and yes, I believe it is a matter of when, not if), the price will collapse, and so will drug-related crime.

Users will no longer need to steal to support their habit. Drug-related crime will fall to the same level as off-licence-related crime. When was the last time you heard about a person being killed at an off-licence for a bottle of vodka or being stabbed for a packet of 20 Marlboro Red?

Legalising drugs would also lead to a dramatic and permanent fall in our prison population. The majority of prisoners in Ireland are there because of drug-related crimes.

The arguments behind legalising or, at the very least, decriminalising drugs have been repeated ad nauseam by authors, academics and even some police officials for years, decades even. From Portugal to Colorado, Uruguay to Argentina, the world is littered with stories successful drug liberalisation policies. Time and time again, decriminalising and/or legalising drugs is proven to be beneficial for crime rates and economies. And time and time again, belligerent policies, like introducing internment for instance, have been proven not to work and actually greatly exacerbate the problem. It's time we took our head out of the sand and started thinking of real solutions. In fairness, we took a step in the right direction last year when then Minister for Drugs Aodhán O'Riordáin announced the introduction of injection rooms for addicts and the decriminalisation of small amounts of controlled substances. But we need to be bolder, we need to be braver. And we need to ignore those who advocate the continuation of the failed 'war on drugs' policies. As Sergeant Colvin said in The Wire, "You call something a war and pretty soon everybody gonna be running around acting like warriors."

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