Shocking reality of knife crime
The level of knife crime in Northern Ireland is shocking, with more than two incidents involving these weapons every day. Some people argue that the situation is not as bad as in other parts of the UK, but the fact that we had more than 800 incidents involving knives or bladed weapons in the past year is cause for concern.
Most worrying is the gravity of the crimes committed where knives are the weapons of choice. They were used in 35% of murders and attempted murders and 20% of robberies.
In a case currently before the courts, it is alleged that a meat cleaver and a knife were used in an attack on a man and in recent days and weeks we have had a number of stabbing incidents, at least one of which almost cost a man his life.
Inevitably, given the scale of the problem - and notwithstanding that the incidence of knife crimes fell last year - there are calls for tougher jail sentences for those convicted of using these weapons. Yet it has to be acknowledged that last year Justice Minister David Ford introduced new legislation which meant anyone convicted of carrying a knife on school premises or armed with an offensive weapon with intent to commit a crime could face a four year jail term.
However, his department should keep a close eye on how new laws introduced in England impact on the knife culture there. The laws mean any adult convicted of carrying a knife for the second time would face an automatic jail sentence - a sort of two strikes and you're out. If it is seen as a deterrent, then consideration should be given to introducing it here.
It is already an offence to sell a knife to a young person, but knives do not have to be bought. Every kitchen in the country is full of these potentially lethal weapons, from large carving knives to ordinary dinner cutlery.
What is most worrying is that so many people are actually prepared to carry knives almost as a matter of routine. An inevitable consequence is that they are more likely to use it in any confrontation.
Knives are easily concealed, which makes the job of the PSNI in detecting those carrying the weapons all the more difficult. Yet detection remains the greatest deterrent.
Perhaps more education in schools on the dangers of allowing a knife culture to flourish would also assist. It would be sad if we have, by and large, removed the gun from Irish society, only to have it replaced by the knife.