This time three months ago, I had the misfortune to hear in grisly detail how a well-known journalist came to encounter a 21-year-old stranger who would ultimately end his life. Eugene Moloney was walking home through Camden Street when he became involved in a seemingly harmless verbal exchange on the packed pavement outside Palace Nightclub.
Although his assailant Gary Burch claimed he was not a big drinker, he admitted that he “had had a lot to drink that night”. Like many young men on a night out, he had begun his night drinking beer and almost inevitably moved on to shots as the night went on.
In the minutes that followed, Moloney suffered just one singular blow to the neck so severe that the post mortem revealed an actual tear in his artery.
Within 40 minutes, he was pronounced dead at St James’ Hospital.
However, these were not the details that most shocked me while sitting in the Court of Criminal Justice that afternoon. What shook me to the core was that the man sitting mere feet away from me in the defendant’s box was considerably younger than me, having only turned 21 a month before he ended the life of a complete stranger.
His moment of madness after a few too many drinks had become a lifetime of heartache for the two families crying behind me.
Another shiver went down my spine when Judge Mary Ellen Ring paused during his sentencing to detail how assault under the influence of alcohol or drugs has become the number one type of case to come before the courts. These types of attacks are now more common than divorce, tax evasion, speeding and any other crimes that do not very avoidably unravel people’s lives.
Moloney died in what has become known as a “one punch killing”, a phenomenon which instigated the launch of an awareness campaign by the PSNI, who say that since 2004, around 20 people have lost their lives in these types of attacks in the North alone.
Aimed at young men between the ages of 18 and 25, the ‘One Punch Campaign’ is attempting to “highlight the risks of getting involved in an argument or fight which could ultimately lead to serious injury or death”. It also highlights that “the majority of incidents are fuelled by alcohol and can have a devastating impact on the victim and their family.”
That much is painfully clear. In an impromptu interview outside the court, Moloney’s brother Sean said: "He was a larger-than-life man, a giant of a man, who is just not there. How do you deal with that?"
After hours violence
The issue of post-nightclub violence first came crashing to light 13 years ago after it dragged a group of affluent, private school-educated young men into the burning media spotlight. The fatal attack on 18-year-old Brian Murphy, fresh out of secondary school, lasted all of 30 seconds. The full details of the moment which threw at least four families’ lives into upheaval are not, and probably never will be known.
The case at the time was treated as unique, in the unfortunate way that it was one of the rare occurrences of middle-class manslaughter so it seemingly warranted more attention from the press. Like the Moloney case, the perpetrators of the violence had not come into any trouble with the law before, and it is difficult to imagine either night ending in death without the overbearing presence of alcohol.
During the course of the trial, it emerged that during that June night, Club Anabel’s had a series of spirits promotions. This may seem insignificant, but essentially it meant that similar to Gary Burch, the group involved in this fatality spent the night consuming shots as their drink of choice.
When the four young men involved were found guilty not of manslaughter but violent disorder following seven gruelling weeks at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, the counsel for one of the accused, Andrew Frame, declared: “People who have huge amounts of drink make significant mistakes.”
The barrister of another defendant, Dermot Laide, also admitted: “What happened in this case has happened before. I daresay it will happen again. God forbid it would happen to my children, it could happen to your children”.
Indeed, Judge Mary Ellen Ring, who delivered the sentencing for the Moloney case, suggested this was a huge societal problem, detailing how each weekend brought new cases of alcohol-fuelled violence before the Irish court system.
According to research conducted last year by the Health Research Board for Alcohol Action Ireland, an estimated 88 deaths a month are directly attributable to alcohol. Even worse, one in four men aged 15 to 39 in Ireland can be blamed on alcohol consumption.
Although Irish research on the subject is limited, American investigation into the issue is startling. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), alcohol is a factor in around 40% of all convicted murder cases.
Sexual violence and alcohol
Based on victim reports, the NCADD also estimate that alcohol consumption by the offender has been a significant factor in 37% of rapes and sexual assaults, and 27% of aggravated assaults.
Research from the UK has been equally worrying. The Faculty of Public Health there has established that in England and Wales alone, alcohol has been attributed to around 1.2 million incidents of violence-almost half of all violent crimes.
This particular research also highlighted that half of all alcohol-related violence in those two countries is perpetrated in and around pubs and clubs, and that binge drinkers are three times more likely to be involved than regular drinkers.
This deepening issue of post-drinking street violence was said by the Faculty of Public Health to be exacerbated by “irresponsible drinks promotions, insufficient transport services, poor street lighting and inappropriately targeted police resources”.
Despite the fact that legally, intoxication is not considered a defence or a mitigating factor, an Irish report published in March found that judges in manslaughter cases tend to be more lenient if drugs or alcohol are involved.
Looking specifically at manslaughter cases between 2007 and 2012, the Irish Sentencing Information System found that of the 42 cases analysed, 80% were handed sentences of nine years or less. The report also draws particular attention to a “rather lenient” three years sentence a man received for pushing a woman to the ground and stamping on her head.
On average, manslaughter cases involving alcohol or drugs culminate in a six year suspended sentence. Is this a sufficient deterrent for fatal post-nightclub attacks?
Just like the cases which are generated by the issue, the solution is not simple. Gardaí have begun a policy of monitoring CCTV cameras during Friday and Saturday nights from a surveillance van in the city centre. This is obviously both time-consuming and as not all violence happens within sight of a security camera, not entirely efficient in relation to the high level of resources it requires.
As the recent Arthur’s Day debate has illustrated, it is obvious to admit that there is a pressing need to question our relationship to alcohol consumption in this country. If the calibre of a night out was not measured in shots and behaviour was not so altered by the haze of alcohol, many Irish lives may not have been shattered by a minute of unwarranted, irreversible violence.