Over the past few years, there has been a major issue with underage kids drinking in the Falls Park and City Cemetary. At weekends hundreds of children gather to drink, take drugs and do all the usual things that teenagers do. The problem is especially severe in the summer. Underage drinking is not exactly new, but the main issue is the massive vandalism that is going on. Thousands of pounds worth of damage is being caused to the children’s play park. Even worse in the City Cemetary graves are being desecrated much to the distress of families. A defibrillator was installed in the Falls Park last year, they had it burned to the ground in less than a week.
The main issue is traditional stone walls surround the park. They are quite easy to climb over, so it is challenging to secure the park and the adjoining cemetery.
Where are the parents in all this I hear you cry? Well, the Andersonstown News is reporting that parents are dropping their kids off at the park to go drinking. Yes, you read that right, parents are dropping their underage kids off to go drinking in a park. A park full of hundreds of teenagers off their heads on drink and drugs. The whole story gets even more surreal when a community worker reports that parents are bringing extra carry outs down to their kids as they have run out of drink!
Can you imagine the situation where someone is actively dropping their 14 or 15-year-old daughter off to go drinking in a park full of hundreds of underage boys high on alcohol, teenage hormones and drugs? It is amazing there have been no sexual assaults reported so far. Also for the boys, it is easy to imagine a fight breaking out and some kid getting stabbed or killed.
I don’t envy the police in these situations. Come down hard, and they will be accused of brutality. Do nothing and when the inevitable rape or murder happens the same parents will be asking where was the police.
In these situations, we often blame the kids, but this is one time where parents need to take a long hard look at themselves. Alcohol and drug abuse have been normalised for a section of our society. The parents get blind drunk every weekend, so they see no issue with their kids doing it as well.
These issues are not just confined to West Belfast. All other Northern Ireland we have issues with underage drinking and drug abuse. The Mark Patterson show covered a similar story in St Columbs Park in Derry/Londonderry.
Talk to any teacher or social worker and they will tell you tales of Dickensian dysfunctional families. One teacher friend told me of an eight-year-old pupil in her class who kept turning up to school tired. It turned out the mother was getting the boy up at 5 am to go to a shop to buy more ice so the mother and her friends could keep the party going. Who needs to worry about ID when you parent buys the drink for you? A friend who runs an under 14 soccer club tells me of kids coming into games hungover.
There is something bigger going on here. I know humans have been getting off their faces since the world began. In middle-class homes, they are all sitting in front of the tele with a bottle of wine or large measures of whiskey. For me, the issue is the vandalism. There is an anger and frustration in a lot of these kids. I don’t know if it’s some kind of hangover from the troubles, but we are producing a generation with major mental health problems. These troubled kids will grow up to have troubled lives, and troubled relationships, and then troubled kids of their own.
Not all the kids in the Park are bad. I know I drank underage as I am sure most of you reading this did. That age when you are too young for pubs and discos can be a tricky one. I would have thought it would not be the most complex thing in the world to setup alternative activities for kids. Teenage discos etc. But talking to people who have tried this approach they say it is tough to get volunteers for such events. Also, there are massive liability issues. The same parent who throws their child out to go drinking would be the first one to sue you if anything happened to their little darling at an organised event. Like many difficult problems in society, we just turn a blind eye to it and hope for the best.