The Reverend David Crooks, the rector of the Church of Ireland in Newtowncunningham, Co Donegal, realised the ineptness of his Christmas message when he denounced as vermin the vandals who trashed his church on the night before Christmas.
Earlier in the year, other vandals broke into the church through a rear door and stole a safe. This time they wrenched the doors off and threw them over a hedge. The culprits should “get a birch where it hurts”, the Reverend Crooks said. One senses that he would give a whole new meaning to the term “turning the other cheek”. The exasperation of people at such vandalism and antisocial behaviour is thoroughly understandable and it is time that society took a serious look at the whole issue. All too often people no longer even complain to An Garda Síochána about vandalism, because they consider it pointless.
The gardaí, on the other hand, are exasperated because nothing seems to happen when they apprehend the culprits. If they are brought before the courts, they are let go with a mere figurative tap on the wrists, whereas a few lashes of the birch might leave a lasting impression on their warped minds at any rate.
The lives of many people are being blighted by antisocial behaviour. Recently, when some young people were vandalising the home of Aidan O’Kane in Dublin, he gave chase and ended up being shot dead.
The media has been focusing on the banks and the health service, but vandalism and other forms of antisocial behaviour are just as important, because these can have such a devastating impact on the lives of people.
Many people believe that a decline in disciplinary standards can be traced back to the ending of corporal punishment in schools. That is probably a bit simplistic because the abuse of corporal punishment led to a great many problems itself, but the figurative pendulum has now swung too far in the other direction. In places like Singapore, where the birch is still in vogue, they don’t have these vandalism problems. All too often vandalism is simply the mindless behaviour of louts deriving vicarious pleasure from destruction. If they were rewarded with the birch and the humiliation that goes with it, they might not think their actions were quite so “cool”.
Of course, this should be done in a properly regulated and appropriate manner. The problem is acute and it is time such issues were considered and debated seriously.