In the offices of the North Inner-City Local Community Safety Partnership on James Joyce Street, a brightly coloured mural depicts some iconic sights of central Dublin: the statue of James Larkin on O’Connell Street, the Poolbeg chimneys and the Five Lamps.
Cormac Ó Donnchú, the chairperson of the partnership, sits on a grey armchair. In front of him, the glass front of the ground-floor premises looks out onto the street.
Ó Donnchú met some local children and teenagers recently at the Francesca Arkins Dance School and Stage Academy around the corner on Sean McDermott Street, he says.
“The girls were great company, they were full of life.”
He asked the young dancers what they thought about their area and if they felt safe walking around it. They said they generally felt safe, but that when they were leaving the dance school at night it was very dark, which made some feel insecure.
Ó Donnchú spoke to Dublin City Council staff, who were happy to install extra street lights outside the dance academy, he says.
“It was a lovely example of making the girls feel a little bit safer, but as importantly, for them to understand that if they raise an issue people would listen to them,” he says.
That was a practical action that made people feel safer, he says. There is no “silver bullet” for community safety, says Ó Donnchú, but small incremental changes can make a difference over time.
The partnership approach aims to give a voice to locals, volunteers and community representatives, and to bolster those making positive contributions to their community, he says.
What’s a Partnership Approach?
The local community-safety partnership in the north inner-city was launched last year as one of three being piloted nationally.
The partnership covers Dublin Port, East Wall, the Docklands, Ballybough, O’Connell Street, as well as parts of Drumcondra and Stoneybatter and it replaces the joint policing committee (JPC) structure in that area.
Around the partnership table are managers from Dublin City Council, Tusla, the HSE, the Probation Service, and the local drugs task force.
There are representatives too from the community and voluntary sector, youth and education sectors, business representatives and residents’ representatives.
Ó Donnchú is a voluntary chairperson who works in the tourism business in communications and marketing. He previously worked at GOAL, the international humanitarian response agency, he says.
In his spare time, he volunteers with the Vincentian Refugee Centre and is best known for having chaired the Na Fianna GAA club, he says. That’s a large GAA club in Glasnevin with around 3,000 members.
Ó Donnchú says he was surprised when he was asked to chair the community-safety partnership. “It’s a big commitment and it’s a huge privilege.”
He thinks he was asked to do it because, as the chairperson of Na Fianna, he had spoken out about how state agencies should engage more to support and encourage community work and volunteers, he says.
“There is a fairly serious disconnect between the level of our state services and the community,” says Ó Donnchú. “Those in the voluntary sector had to engage with the state on the state’s terms.”
“State supports tend to be aimed at areas that are deemed to be problematic, whereas those who make positive social change … tend not to get the same level of support,” he says.
He says the community-safety partnerships are the state’s way of asking people from local communities – like the young dancers from the Francesca Arkins school – to identify the local issues that affect them.
By bringing community representatives together with key decision-makers to brainstorm potential solutions, “we are trying to reconnect a disconnect that exists in society”, he says.
The focus should be on building and strengthening the community infrastructure, says Ó Donnchú. Supporting all the good things that happen in the community.
Whether that is sports, arts, dance, charity, street cleanups, or organising social activities for older people. “There are so many who are doing so much great work,” he says. “They get very little support.”
Another thing that can help build confidence is if people get to know their local community gardaí, he says. Together with An Garda Síochána, the partnership has created a map so people can get look up who to contact in their local area.
Finding a Balance
Early in 2021, there were three very serious knife crime incidents in the north inner-city, says** **Ó Donnchú. “They were three very tragic incidents.”
Josh Dunne, aged 16, was killed in a knife attack. Mother-of-two Urantsetseg Tserendorj was also stabbed, and later died in hospital.
Around the same time, a doctor was attacked too in an attempted hijacking, he says.
“That generated a public discourse that talked about the growth in knife crime and the pervasiveness of it,” he says.
In each case, the perpetrators were quickly arrested and charged, and statistics show that knife crime had not actually increased, says Ó Donnchú.
Some people got very scared that knife crime was out of control in the city, he says.
Overemphasising the prevalence of knife crime could also become a self-fulfilling prophecy, says Ó Donnchú.
“If we push the agenda to say there is a prevalence of knife crime, you could get to the stage where individuals feel obliged, for their own safety and security, to carry a knife,” he says.
That doesn’t take away from the shocking tragedy of those three incidents, he says. “It is trying to find a balance.”
Last year the partnership had an opportunity to engage with Deliveroo riders, many of whom had been victims of crime.
“It was quite a chastening experience in a sense, because we had individuals who were afraid to go to work,” says Ó Donnchú.
The riders fear their bikes could get stolen, and they need their bikes to make a living and pay their rent, he says. So it was a serious issue.
Together with Store Street Garda station, they arranged a tagging system for the bikes so if it was stolen the Deliveroo riders were more likely to get it back. “Not to say that it was going to stop their bike being stolen but at least if it’s recovered they can be reunited with it,” he says.
The additional benefit was that it contributed to rapport. “It created communication between the riders and An Garda Síochána,” says Ó Donnchú
The partnership has one community activist from Fiji and is still looking for more immigrants who are activists in the community and want to get involved, he says. “That is an ongoing challenge, we are effectively a brand new entity and in order to establish ourselves it will take time.”
There are a lot of Roma people living in the inner-city, but it can be hard to identify Roma community activists who would want to get involved, he says.
“The Roma community have a long history of oppression and massive discrimination throughout Europe,” he says. So for good reasons they may not trust state services including the police, he says.
The partnership’s community-safety coordinator held a meeting with a group of Roma women recently to discuss women’s safety issues, he says.
No Silver Bullet
The community-safety partnership is carrying out a series of local consultations to brainstorm areas to focus on, says Ó Donnchú.
Anyone living or working in the north inner-city can get involved by emailing [email protected].
They are currently working on ideas to tackle open drug dealing and to increase feelings of safety for women and vulnerable groups, he says.
They are carrying out audits of local infrastructure to identify whether something simple, like adding more street lighting, could make an area feel safer, he says.
“I wish we could offer a silver bullet but there isn’t going to be instant transformational change,” says Ó Donnchú.
Still, incremental changes could lead to substantial improvements in the safety and feelings of safety, over time, he says.