Sirens in the Night

At eleven o'clock they came in twos and threes from the darkness and gathered under the street lamp on The Tarmac on Valley Park Road. All adult males.

To the men of Valley Park:

We the residents of Valley Park Estate, due to the increase in vandalism, car thefts, cider parties and damage to properties etc. we feel now is the time to take action. We cannot wait until some child gets injured or killed, due to the motor bikes and stolen cars in the area. It has to stop now!

Help us to stop it, if it has not happened to you yet, it could be your turn tomorrow.

Act now!


A meeting will be held on The Tarmac, Valley Park Road on Tuesday night 14/9/82 at 11pm.

Handwritten and pushed through letter boxes, it brought about a hundred Valley Park men onto The Tarmac that night. Valley Park is a Dublin Corporation estate of 296 houses, a tiny triangle attached to the south-west corner of Finglas. One side of the triangle, to the east, faces the massive bulk of Finglas, the other two sides border on open country. Valley Park is on the frontier of expanding Dublin.

No names, right? Or addresses. And no pictures of faces, right?

 Within a few minutes the hundred men are ranged in a circle beneath the lamp. The problems are familiar to all but must be set down formally as a foundation for the meeting. There are in the city young people, mid-teens, whose idle hands have found work that is in tune with a materialistic, technological age. They steal cars and motorbikes. Only the best and the fastest, and they handle them with the skill, courage and recklessness which in other circumstances attract laurel wreaths and champagne. They are very, very good drivers.

For some months now these kids have been using the city's housing estates as race tracks. Come one or two in the morning it's whining engines and burnt rubber all the way. After a while someone calls the cops. And after another while the cops turn up. And the kids wait for them. Their driving skills are at least equal to those of the cops and their stolen cars are sometimes better. One night after another the police radios crackle with warnings as a squad car in hot pursuit ticks off the areas through which a stolen BMW is zooming and the dispatcher passes on the message to other units in an attempt to head off the offenders.

Mostly the kids lose the squad cars. Sometimes the kids just plain lose. During September there were several cases of hot pursuit in which the joyriders crashed. Two kids died, several more were injured. The men of Valley Park are tonight concerned only with their own area. Two, three, maybe four nights a week the housing estates of the north-west of the city are buzzed by the joyriders. The entrance to Valley Park estate butts onto Ratoath Road, the main road that skirts Cabra and Finglas and it's a natural. All the other streets in the estate are cul-de-sacs and the joyriders weave in and out of them, sometimes making an exit from the estate by jumping a footpath and ploughing through a field until they reach a road.

Some of the Valley Park joyriders are from Finglas, others from Cabra. Cars are stolen or wrecked, glass is smashed, kids from the estate are bullied, houses are broken into.

"The other night there were six motorbikes out here on The Tarmac. Eight heads. I went up to them with a hatchet and told them just to fuck off. If there was another man that'd stand up with you they wouldn't be long running".

For the first twenty minutes or so the man with the moustache makes the running. He and a couple of his mates have been out patrolling the estate for an hour or two a couple of nights a week for the last month. Now they think it's time for more people to join in and put a stop to the vandalism.

"There's been a noticeable decline in vandalism, it's been a deterrent. What we want now is to organise groups of ten or fifteen to go around and we want to draw up a roster and put it on a regular basis."

Someone wants to know what the police will think of this. Two voices reply.

"Don't worry about the police, they told us to protect ourselves".

"It even came over the CB, that they weren't to come in and do anything. They'll just come in after and pick up the pieces."

What's going to be done about the kids who have cider parties in the field at the end of the road?

"Don't mind that crowd, drinking and having a sing-song. It's not them we're worried about, it's them others."

There are questions about doing something to stop the stolen cars and motor bikes ploughing through the grass at the end of the cul-de-sacs.

"That's another thing we want. We want a fence around there."

"What about a wall?"

There are practical questions about how you stop a stolen car, doing maybe ninety.

"There's plenty of rocks around," says Moustache, "break the wind shield" .


The curly-haired guy who had faced up to the eight motor bike riders says, "When we went out our hands weren't empty. We took batons."

"The important thing", says Moustache, "is once they get in don't let them out again."


People have been drifting across the grass to The Tarmac to listen. Three of them are women. "No, no women", says Moustache, "no ladies were invited here tonight. Sorry, ladies, come on." The women, late twenties, just fold their arms and stare. They remain and that's that.


The meeting now turns to the problem of what to do with the vandals when you've got them bottled up in the estate. A silver-haired guy who before the meeting had commented, "It's the Spanish cops you'd want here, them's the lads", now speaks up. "They're mad, they're just fucking mad, and we have to be as mad as they are. Break their legs, break their arms, they won't be back again."


But then they'll come after you when you're on your own.

"We'll wear hoods."


The meeting, seemingly having decided what to do to the vandals and how to do it, now concerns itself primarily with the problem of possible retaliation. What if the vandals come back with a gang of twenty or thirty?

"The thing you have to remember", says Moustache, "is that these are young fellas. When they say they'll bring back a gang from Sherrif Street or wherever, they'll be young fellas. The men down there won't wear them."

Curly says, "Ten of us would deal with thirty of what I seen."


A small, older man puts up his hand. "I've a suggestion, I've a suggestion. If every man that's going out on patrol gives a pound we could get one of them sirens, like the police have. And if anything turns up that they can't handle they can set it off and the others can come out."

"That's a good suggestion, a. very good suggestion". Heads nod. Up to now it seems like all that's needed is a roster and all of the men present will put their names down. Again and again there are references to the great turnout and how the vigilante patrols can now be put on an organised basis. There has been no dissident voice.


Then one man emerges to do the Henry Fonda bit. He speaks clearly and fluently, his argument well strung together. Now and then Silver Hair or Moustache grunt or interrupt or say for jazus sake, but the guy just keeps going wait a minute, wait a minute until the interruptions cease.


"My car was wrecked, my car was stolen, I'm just as angry about it as anyone else. But let's accept that it's easy to get carried away in a fever. What we need to do is sit down in the calm light of day and draw up a blueprint of what we want. I've been listening to people talking about breaking legs and putting up walls and all that jazz, but you'd want to think about it. Do you really want to put up a wall? Do you want to live in a fucking prison? And no one's going to set himself up as a bollard for a stolen car doing ninety miles an hour. This could wind up with one of you getting killed.


"And have you thought of this? Suppose you do stop some of them and beat them up, and what happens if they come back during the day and the men are at work - those that are lucky enough to have work. Couldn't the women be terrorised?"


"What happens if they come back and they know 'who's doing this and they do you - remember them lads in Coolock, where their, homes got taken over for a couple of days?"


"We could wind up as vicious as the people we're trying to deal with."


"And anyway, there's a precedent for this in the North. Up there they shoot the joyriders, they shoot them. And does that stop it? Like fuck it does."


"Now there's still some authority in this country, some semblance of authority. The cops aren't very interested. Oh, they're interested in getting the embargo lifted on their pay. But ... look. I was on a delegation to the cops down in Cabra, because that's what deals with here. And there's seven cops in the station over in Finglas. Seven! And one car - and that doesn't work during bank robberies."


"Seven cops in a place with sixty-five thousand people - a place as big as Limerick."


"Our public representatives are there and they're not doing anything about it. If a hundred of us turn up together at one of their clinics - Jim Tunney or Proinsias de Rossa - then they'd have to take us seriously."


"But all this vigilante stuff is just going to get someone killed."


After that there are some more dissident voices. One man wants to know what happens if the vigilantes kill one of the vandals. Curly shouts, "I'm sick hearing about the rights of villains. "


"No, look. What if we chase after them and one of them is sick inside..."


"Ah, for Christ sake ... "


" ... no, I don't mean mad. I mean, if there's something wrong with him. You give one guy a hiding and he gets up and runs away ... "


"Hit him hard enough and he won't run away!"


" ... but you give someone else just one dig and there's something wrong with him and he curls up and dies. What happens then?"


"You've a right to defend your property!"


The thing to do, says a voice, is not to hit them on the head. Just the arms and legs. Break them.


But the main concern is the fear that retaliation from the vandals may occur when the men are not there. Another man voices this fear. What happens if they come in and rape some woman in revenge?

"That's a good question", says Curly, "and there's about five answers to your question". And he doesn't give any of them.

"They're not going to do that", says Silver Hair. "Look, there's five or six of them over there in Finglas West doing this, we know who they are. They'd want to be mental to do that..."


It was Silver Hair who a few minutes earlier had said that the vandals were "mad".


"Anyway", says Curly, "we all know there's nothing as vicious as a pack of women!"


But the anger now is laced with fear. Fear of the death of a vigilante, fear of some monstrous retaliation from the vandals, fear of killing a kid for the crime of smashing a pane of glass. There must be another meeting, it is decided, a proper meeting in a hall, now that the extent of the anger is known, and from that meeting a decision on what weapon should be fashioned of the anger.


And over to the left, drifting slowly down from the entrance to the estate is a squad car.


The circle holds, but the meeting pauses. There's a joke about maybe the cops will think this is a toss school. The squad car turns off the road and comes slowly across the grass towards The Tarmac.


"Tell them it's a parents' meeting!"


A cop gets out of the car and stands there. A man breaks from the crowd and goes towards the car.


"Guard", a nod of greeting. "It's just a parents' meeting. Problems on the estate. Vandalism, things like that."


"That's okay", says the cop, "it's just that we got a call that there were some men assembling." He gets back into the squad car, the car pulls away and up out of the estate.

"Okay then, who's going to get the hall? How about this day week?"