There is “no excuse” for the mass teen brawls that have been breaking out across Cork and Dublin since lockdown, a TD has said.
Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Sinn Féin spokesperson on education and skills, was contacted by concerned constituents after a fight involving up to 70 youths broke out at Mount Oval in Rochestown, Cork on Saturday. He has since been contacted by constituents concerned by large gatherings of adolescents in other Cork suburbs.
“This behaviour is a concern,” said Mr Ó Laoghaire. “The incidents are quite shocking and there’s no excuse. People could be badly hurt. It’s very intimidating and frightening for people.
“We recognise the pressure that young people are under, but the vast majority of young people are not involved in anything like this. Many of them are care-givers, many are supporting vulnerable members of their family.
“It needs to come to an end. And I would appeal to the young people who are involved to stay at home. Don’t put frontline workers under extra pressure at a time when they’re badly needed.”
Mr Ó Laoghaire called for a greater Garda presence in Cork City and said that a lack of Templemore recruits in recent years had depleted the local force.
Gardaí say that they have increased patrols in the Mount Oval area since the fight. Detectives have begun identifying those involved through CCTV, but no arrests have been made as yet.
Mr Ó Laoghaire also called for the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to devise a strategy to engage young people safely throughout the lockdown.
Parents, he said, have a responsibility to know where their children are, but young people “should also take responsibility for themselves”.
However, Brendan Kelly, professor of psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin, said that because people’s brains do not fully develop until the age of about 25, teenagers decision-making ability may be hampered.
“Teenagers are less able than adults to organise their actions and regulate them in a socially acceptable way,” he said. “So at a time like this, when structures and timetables and routines are all different, teenagers are less able to cope.”
He said that teenagers now need help to structure their days, otherwise they will continue to gather in large groups, and this may be further exacerbating dangerous behaviour among adolescents.
The social controls in our brain break down when we gather in groups. People do things in groups that they would never do as individuals.
“If a number of people are doing something mildly transgressive, everyone is egged on to take the next step because it feels like it is acceptable.”
Prof Kelly advised parents and guardians to be aware of these psychological truths while trying to provide structures and activities that young people find acceptable — which may involve some compromise.
“There’s no point in being utopian about what you think they should do. You need to look at a 10% or 20% improvement. None of us are capable of very dramatic, sudden change,” he said.
“The best way to influence the behaviour of an adolescent is to behave well yourself.”