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What drives the sort of vandalism that sees a yob smash a defibrillator paid for by the community to save lives?

By Lindy McDowell

Published 24/08/2016

Under attack: Richard Campbell, proprietor, Spar shop in Londonderry, beside the damaged defibrillator box
Under attack: Richard Campbell, proprietor, Spar shop in Londonderry, beside the damaged defibrillator box
An urn smashed by vandals in a graveyard

Why are we such vandals in Northern Ireland? Or, let me rephrase that more tactfully, why do we have such vandals in Northern Ireland?

And so many of them?

Some weeks back I was dandering through another European city when I chanced upon what struck me as an odd thing strapped to a lamppost.

It looked like one of those plastic bag dispensers you get in the fruit and veg section of the supermarket. On closer inspection it turned out that it was something similar - except that in this instance the plastic bags were intended for ('look away now' alert to the squeamish) dog poo.

There was an accompanying message exhorting dog owners to use these bags for the purpose intended and to take pride in keeping their city clean. The dispenser had obviously been in regular use for some time and was well-supplied with bags.

My immediate thought was, "That wouldn't last a day in Belfast. Somebody would have those bags whipped out and strewn all over the street."

Now, I accept that many other places have their share of vandals, too. I'm not suggesting we've cornered the market on maggotry.

But we do seem to specialise here in mindless, wasteful, anti-social destruction of a sort that's particularly hard to fathom

Example. A yob walking home late at night is captured on CCTV footage ripping a defibrillator from its stand in a public place, hurling it into a roadway and then smashing it to pieces.

Why would he do this? What thought process would lead to: "Here's something that could save somebody's life but, you know what? I'll just smash it for the hell of it ..."

What makes this act particularly contemptible is that the defibrillator had been bought and paid for by a local group.

These people - decent, big-hearted, public-spirited - had spent a whole year fundraising to pay for the lifesaving equipment.

And they'd then gone to some considerable effort to get the thing installed.

It had only been in place a matter of weeks. But somebody just couldn't leave it alone ...

Vandalism we usually associate with gangs of young people roaming around egging each other on. Some of the recent attacks on graveyards (of all places) would seem to fall into that category.

Not that that makes them any more excusable, of course. Most of us can imagine the added grief and heartache such wilful, witless destruction leaves in its wake.

But in the case of the defibrillator, there wasn't even that element of youthful peer pressure to blame.

There is something particularly galling, baffling, about watching footage of a lone yob deliberately wrecking something that had been placed there for the benefit of local people.

Something that could have saved a life.

Where does it spring from, this compulsion to rip down and destroy?

And would it help if, instead of being brought to court and given the usual smack on the vandalising wrist, those who engage in trashing apparatus and facilities that have been put in place for the benefit of their local community were forced to make amends to the people most affected by their rascality?

We do a lot of talking these days, about naming and shaming. But "shame" doesn't seem to enter the equation anymore. Wrecking (and even getting caught for it) is something to brag about to your mates.

Vandalism isn't anything new in Northern Ireland. But you get the feeling it's getting worse daily. There are people in our midst who can't seem to walk past anything - anything - without trying to smash it up, rip it down, fling it around or trample it underfoot. Graves, play-parks, even life-saving equipment ...

What is wrong with people?

Let's not harp on about Christmas just yet

In a downtown bar the other day - The Harp in Hill Street in Belfast - I was humming along to the background music until I realised that it was George Michael warbling about Last Christmas.

A bit unseasonal for August I thought. Next up was Walking in a Winter Wonderland. Okay, the weather hasn't exactly been great recently, but even so ... When asked about the tape, Barry the manager tried to explain it away by pointing out that "it's only 20 weeks to Christmas". Nothing like getting in the festive spirit early.

I've got a proposal for you... an expensive one

No sooner is there a new trend than there's a whole new business built around it.

Very public marriage proposals have become a bit of a thing of late. For example, no fewer than four attention-seekers ... sorry, hopeless romantics ... popped the question in front of cameras at the Olympic ceremonies. Spotting a gap in the market, needless to say the world of commerce has said yes.

You can now book a "proposal" team to help plan, stage and film your own down-on-one-knee moment. For a hefty fee, of course ...

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