A MESSAGE THAT SHOULD BE HEARD

28 September 2012 No Comments by The Northern Standard

A very powerful road safety message was presented to the members of the Co Monaghan Joint Policing Committee on Monday – it is a message that deserves to be heard at all public forums in this county and across the gamut of our community organisations in the months ahead, traditionally a main danger time for serious and fatal traffic accidents.
Contained within a five-minute DVD compiled by a group of young people from the Comhairle na nÓg youth forum, with the support of the cross-Border Driving Change Project and input from a range of relevant local sectors, it communicates with commendable focus and lack of embellishment the tragic human consequences that arise from reckless and irresponsible driving practices.
Its content – stark but never graphic – is made up of first hand accounts of the impact calamities on our roads have on those directly concerned – the injured survivors and the relatives of those whose lives have been lost, and the Gardai and emergency response personnel whose role it is to deal at the scene with the often horrific immediate consequences of a serious collision.
This newspaper strongly endorses the wishes expressed by our county JPC members that the production finds as wide an audience as possible in the local community over the months ahead, and we join in commending all those involved, in particular the young Comhairle members who directly participated in its preparation and making, in the polished completion of a project with such high civic value.
Road safety was the predominant theme at Monday’s JPC meeting, and there were also insightful contributions on the topic made by the Driving Change Project that assisted Comhairle in their endeavour, and from Garda Sergeant Anthony Campbell, whose analysis of accident statistics and areas of road traffic offending carried the heartening message that some meaningful impact is at last being made in our locality in reducing instances of drink driving.
Of course, as Sergeant Campbell was at pains to point out, no statistical indicator of reduction in any aspect of behaviour that undermines the safety of our roads is ever the cause for complacency.
Indeed, in the midst of the deserved acclaim generated by the Comhairle project, Clones Co Councillor Pat Treanor was minded to ask a very pertinent question, to the effect as to whether the road safety message encapsulated in the DVD that was shown was actually getting through to those most in need of it.
There are certainly some elements of the audience that can benefit from this message who are highly resistant to its hearing.
Young drivers are by no means exclusively culpable for the motoring ills that beset this country.
Organisations such as Driving Change tell us that 92% of our road accidents are attributable to driver error – and it seems reasonable to estimate that in a substantial number of these cases the error is of the deep-grained variety, arising from a long period of uncorrected poor driving practice, accidents waiting to happen if you like.
But the statisticians also present us with the uncomfortable fact that young people aged between 17-25 are three times more likely to die on the road – they are, as Sergeant Campbell emphasised on Monday, still the category most at risk.
There are a myriad of factors at play here – alcohol and drugs, immaturity and bravado, and an often irresponsible popular culture that bombards its impressionable audience with images equating high-speed and reckless driving with being heroic or rebellious or virile.
Perhaps the chief value of the DVD produced by the members of Co Monaghan Comhairle na nÓg is that it is made by young people with an audience of their peers predominantly, if not exclusively, in mind.
Widely and wisely distributed and embraced by our schools, sporting bodies and all organisations with an interaction with young people, it may prove a more than usually remedial antidote to some of the harmful effects on their driving that the culture they inhabit contains.
The project has certainly articulated an important safety message that deserves to be widely heard.

WE ARE NOT
THE LAW!
In the cinemas at present is a new film adaptation of a long-running British comic book series featuring the character of Judge Dredd, a futuristic law enforcement figure who deals with the miscreants of a dystopian society by embodying the functions of judge, jury and executioner.
Judge Dredd’s famous catchphrase, usually uttered before dispatching some villain to his eternal reward, is: I AM THE LAW!
The appeal of the character is not hard to fathom – he’s a modern, although somewhat subversive, equivalent of the old cowboy hero who adhered to a hard code of personal morality, usually backed up by his six-gun, to negotiate the frontiers he roamed in the days before the encroach of civilisation and a formal code of law extracted the wildness from the Wild West.
In fantasy and fiction such a character has a time-honoured place – in real life, however, serious problems can arise if the rule of law is taken from the hands of those statutorily empowered to enforce it and assumed, however right-mindedly, by the individual or a collective.
Recent incidents in which members of a community in a Border location in Co Monaghan have acted to protect themselves from criminal elements operating in their midst were referred to in a debate at Monday’s Co Joint Policing Committee meeting – and understandably provoked expressions of alarm from some elected public representatives for the safety of the good people concerned.
The citizens involved appear to have acted out of understandable frustration because they find that the criminals at prey in their area are taking advantage of the Border’s proximity, crossing jurisdictions to evade or complicate the process of detection and apprehension by the members of the Gardai and the PSNI.
This has been a cloak used by the criminally motivated since Partition, and although the peace process has created an environment which has become more conducive to cross-Border security co-operation, there are still obstacles, mostly of a practical rather than an ideological nature, that enable those who flout the driving laws and those who sometimes engage in offences against person and property to evade the best efforts of the two policing forces to bring them to book.
It is clear that this situation, which must be replicated across other areas of the Border, has to receive urgent address by the Ministers for Justice of both jurisdictions.
The JPC was correct to make a call in these terms – and we would encourage them to go further and have the matter raised as an urgent priority item during the regular contacts that now take place between the Irish and British governments and their national parliamentary representatives on matters of mutual concern.
It is difficult to condemn people for trying to protect themselves and their property against crime – but it is impossible to give endorsement to the philosophy of taking the law into one’s own hands without undermining the wider good of society.
When such a situation emerges in any community, it is a warning signal that something is deeply amiss, and it is that warning signal that must be responded to by those responsible at national level for ensuring that adequate policing resources – in terms of personnel, equipment and empowerment – are at the ready disposal of all our population.
There are established neighbourhood watch and community alert programmes through which the public can enhance the security of themselves and their neighbours in close liaison with the Gardai – and it was somewhat alarming to hear Garda Chief Superintendent Jim Sheridan comment at Monday’s JPC meeting that there were areas of the county where the Gardai were experiencing difficulties in having such schemes put in place.
We hope that the public representatives present at the meeting respond to the senior Garda officer’s call for assistance in remedying this situation, and that we see communities throughout Co Monaghan in the very near future all able to call upon the reassurance that this form of co-operation with the statutory policing authority offers.
A sense of civic concern should prompt us all to respect and co-operate with the law.
But we should always remember that, as civilian members of the population, we are not the law!

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