28 Jan 2022

Opinion: We are in a battle for the reputation and soul of our town and county

Opinion: We are in a battle for the reputation and soul of our town and county

Luke believes 'Longford town is an absolutely brilliant place and we should not forget that'. Aerial image of Longford town Picture: Fiona Woods

If you live in or around Longford, you’ve more than likely heard about the outbreak of violence that took place in the middle of the town in broad daylight last week.

If you’re on social media you’ve probably even seen videos of the event that have been widely shared.

Your initial reaction may have been shock; I know that I found it very hard to watch that level of violence on the paths and streets I walk on so often.

I found it even harder to imagine what it would’ve been like to witness it in person, and I’m thankful that members of my own family were lucky enough not to get caught up in the middle of it. However, on further reflection, I really wasn’t that surprised.

It is an extremely sad reality that this type of event has become all too common on our streets and in our community.

When it comes to times like this, my normal mantra would be to think positively; these events are awful, but Longford is a fantastic place with fantastic people, and this is just an isolated incident, so it’s better to just move forward and be optimistic.

Yet, after watching these things come to light recently, I just can’t bring myself to simply forget anymore. As the weeks and months move by, our town and county are becoming defined by the very things that repulse and disgust us on a near-weekly basis - crime, disorder, and anti-social behaviour. We cannot allow this to happen.

I’ve just finished sixth year in St Mel’s and in the next couple of months, all going well, I’ll be going to college. Finishing secondary school is a pretty big milestone because for most people it involves taking a step towards living independently, and moving away from your home and community for the first time.

Recent events have got me thinking about all of my friends and classmates who are taking this step too; how many of us see a future for ourselves in Longford?

When we move away to get an education or qualification, what will attract us to come back to contribute to the community we were raised in when the world is our oyster and we can settle anywhere?

The answers to these questions are fairly bleak, and if we’re all being completely honest with ourselves, we know what they are - there is very little that attracts our young people to settle here.

There are many reasons for this, including a lack of opportunities and quality amenities, however, these criminal events we witness so regularly make it even harder to imagine a future for ourselves here.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The future of Longford would be so much brighter if we had the talent, energy, and creativity of as many of our young people as possible behind it. Are we really prepared to let crime and anti-social behaviour stand in the way of this future?

Although it sounds fairly dramatic, I firmly believe that we are now in a battle for the reputation and soul of our town and county. We’ve known for ages that this problem, and the actions of some, are holding us all back.

It’s just one of our many problems, but it’s one that can be stopped with the correct action. Nonetheless, business as usual will fix nothing. It’s about time we come together and say enough is enough loudly.

It is said that times of crisis, like the Covid-19 pandemic, give us an opportunity to ‘build back better’ - I agree. As we move out of lockdown, and our society and community open up, let’s move forward with a brighter future in our minds, and come together, along with our community leaders, young people, business people, and local and national representatives, to demand common-sense changes that will alleviate this problem once and for all.

The message should be extremely clear; criminal behaviour is not welcome in Longford, and if you act criminally there will be serious consequences. At the minute, this just isn’t the case. But, what would fix this?

There must be a strong and visible Garda presence on our streets. This has improved in recent years, but it could be so much better. More regular foot and bicycle patrols around the town, as well as effective CCTV, would act as a strong deterrent.

However, I’m not a policing expert, and the vast majority of us aren’t either. Our gardaí know what will work best, so we need to provide them with the opportunity to communicate what resources are needed to stop crime, and together we need to lobby the Government for these things urgently.

At this point, I think we’ve all identified that the consequences of being caught in the act of criminal behaviour, particularly public disorder and violence, simply aren’t severe enough.

Individuals who repeatedly partake in these crimes, and tarnish our community, should be strongly deterred from doing so and should expect to be punished for it. A ‘tap on the wrist’ isn’t enough.

I believe in a compassionate and understanding approach to justice, but this does not mean that people who continue to break laws can get away lightly. If this means that changes to legislation are needed, let’s lobby for it.

We should advocate for increased funding for youth work and non-formal education, as well as measures to encourage people to finish school and pursue further education, with an aim of providing people from disadvantaged communities with opportunities and support. We should be conscious of using an issue like crime to ‘other’ people from minority communities and discriminate against them with prejudice. Crime is something that affects all of us - uniting our community should be the priority.

On a wider scale, we can all play our individual part in this process by spreading positivity and supporting the things that make our town and county great - whether this means shopping local, volunteering, or championing people who give us a good name, we should all be in this together.

It would be overly pessimistic of me not to acknowledge the efforts of the Gardaí and local representatives to curb these activities, especially the recent CAB raids throughout the county.

This, of course, was definitely welcome and it should be sustained as part of an ongoing operation to ensure that no one living in Longford benefits from the proceeds of crime.

It is no longer viable to place sole responsibility for this fight on our politicians and the authorities - going forward, we all need to do our bit for our shared future.

To come back to that cliché mantra that I mentioned earlier - Longford is an absolutely brilliant place and we should not forget that. Time and time again we’ve seen the real power of community when we come together for good causes, and create positive change.

Just think back to how we came together to rebuild and reconstruct our beloved cathedral when it was ravaged by flames, and to fundraise for the creation of a state-of-the-art facility for our young people, the Attic House.

We now have the chance to come together as a community once again to bring about positive change, and secure the reputation and soul of our town and county.

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