Killing fields?

As homicides attract ever increasing media attention, it may surprise some to note that, according to the UN Ireland has the 11th lowest homicide rate in Europe and the 23rd lowest globally. John Walsh investigates

The UN’s Global Study on Homicide found that Ireland ha d a homicide rate of 0.9 per 100,000 people. This is just slightly under the northern European average of one homicide per 100,000, and a third of the average for the continent of Europe, where it is three per 100,000.

The UN classifies homicide as the intentional killing of another. It does not include figures for manslaughter or dangerous driving causing death. The study of intentional homicide is relevant not only because of the gravity of the offence, but also because intentional homicide is one of the most measurable and comparable indicators for monitoring violent deaths.

The International Classification of Crime for Statistical Purposes (ICCS), developed by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), provides a framework for the definition and classification of unlawful killings. Homicide is defined in ICCS as “unlawful death inflicted upon a person with the intent to cause death or serious injury”. This statistical definition contains three elements that characterise the killing of a person as “intentional homicide”:
• The killing of a person by another person (objective view)
• The intent of the perpetrator to kill or seriously injure the victim (subjective view)
• The unlawfulness of the killing (legal view)

Various circumstances, motivations and relationships can act as the impetus behind homicide, and they are often overlapping and multifaceted. Although it can be sometimes difficult to distinguish between the different elements that drive homicide, the Global Study on Homicide uses a classification of homicide in three main typologies: homicide related to interpersonal conflict, homicide related to criminal activities and homicide related to socio-political agendas.

All killings that meet the criteria listed above are to be considered intentional homicides, irrespective of definitions provided by national legislations or practices. Killings as a result of terrorist activities are also to be classified as a form of intentional homicide. Deaths by terrorism are included in the study, but deaths in armed conflicts, killings in self-defence and legally sanctioned killings are not.

The study, based on 2017 data, stated there were 41 homicides in Ireland. Many of them were related to the Hutch/Kinahan gang feud. Ireland’s homicide rate has fluctuated significantly over the years. In 1990, when the study first began, it was 0.5 per 100,000. Despite the large number of feud-related murders in 2017, the study suggests that Ireland was a safer country in terms of homicides than it was at the time of the last UN report in 2013; when the rate stood at 1.1 per 100,000. The worst year was 2007 when it reached 1.8.

The UN found 464,000 people died by violent homicide globally in 2017, more than five times the number who died in armed conflicts. This is an increase on the 400,000 homicides recorded when the study first began. However, when global population growth is taken into account the rate has actually dropped, from 7.2 per 100,000 to 6.1.

The UN deployed a series of statistical models to predict the homicide rates in various countries. It found the Irish rate is broadly in line with that expected of a country with its level of economic development. Other countries such as Sierra Leone and Cameroon had much lower murder rates than predicted based on their economic status. Some of this could be explained by poor record keeping in some countries, the UN said.

Research confirmed El Salvador as the most dangerous country with a rate of 61.8 per 100,000. Japan and Singapore had the lowest homicide rate at 0.2 per 100,000. Most of the safest countries were in Asia, which had an overall homicide rate of 2.3 per 100,000.

Organised crime continued to be a massive driver of global homicide rates, according to UN findings. It was a motive for 19 per cent of all murders recorded in 2017. Males seemed far more likely than females to be both the victims and perpetrators of homicides. Nine of out 10 murderers and eight out of 10 murder victims were male. However, women formed the vast majority of victims in family and intimate partner homicides.


For full and in-depth coverage, see the current printed edition of Garda Review.

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