Saturday, March 22, 2008
I think so, on balance.
Are they making a shite of their own neighbourhood? Yes.
Is the violence largely conducted by kids buzzing on cheap alcohol? Of course.
Is street violence going to solve the problems facing their community? No chance.
So why do I think they're right to riot in Finglas? Because I don't see what other option they have.
I remember rioting as a kid. That was in Belfast, during the Troubles. We went out to throw rocks and molotovs at the RUC.
There were political justifications, of course. The hunger strikes. The oppression. The fact that we were second class citizens in our own land.
But primarily, we rioted because we had no amenities, and nothing else to do, and were fed up of a system that rubbed our nose in the shit all the time, a system that treated us like animals. If we were going to be accused of being animals, we felt, we could show them what animals could do.
Revisionists, or at least Republicans, would have you believe that our rioting was civil unrest, an uprising, a liberation movement. Perhaps it was all of those things.
But what the rioting in Belfast decades ago, and the rioting in Lhasa last week, and the riots in Finglas in recent days have in common is that the people who live there are objecting to a system that grinds them into the dirt the only way they can, the futile method of tilting at authority figures.
Finglas is a terribly deprived area. It is ridden with gangsterism and drug abuse. Anti-social behaviour thrives because the Gardai give it a wide berth. Schools are poorly funded and bulging at the seams with kids. Even those kids who want to better themselves have the odds heavily stacked against them.
Even if they obtain the necessary schooling to improve their lot, they will then suffer the postcode bigotry of employers who automatically consign job applications from D11 to the bin.
Less than 4% of students at Trinity College come from working class backgrounds these days. The kids of Finglas know that the Celtic Tiger dream marketed at them in the media does not apply to them and never will. Social mobility has never been so static in Ireland. The rich get richer and the poor get their bus routes cancelled.
Local politicians don't bother with places like Finglas because there are no votes there. And in a circular movement, the people of places like Finglas don't bother to vote because no one in authority ever listens to their concerns.
So where can the people of Finglas take their concerns? Eventually, anger bubbles over, the sole amenity of cheap alcohol and drugs kicks in, and the concerns get expressed on the streets.
I did the same myself and feel no shame over it. Two decades on, the oppression I suffered as a youth has been alleviated and addressed. The voice of my community is now heard in government.
But I have a sneaking suspicion that Bill Clinton and Tony Blair won't be taking a special personal interest in Finglas. I suspect the rioters of Finglas will be painted as boozed-up animals rather than people crying out for liberation from deprivation. I hope they get the same result I did, but I fear they will not.
And if they continue to be ignored, then eventually there will be more riots, and riots with increasing severity and regularity. Eventually people will die, local people and Gardai.
They aren't animals. They don't love squalor. They want better lives that are being denied them. The government should listen. Because they're right to riot in Finglas until they do.