We can do something about our leniency on excess

The most unbearable moment in one’s life is to be awoken in the middle of the night to be told that your son or daughter are no longer and to be later told that the driver was drunk or under the influence of drugs

It has been a very tragic week, once again. Shock and dread as an allegedly unstable, and drugged-up individual ran over a Turkish woman who worked in Malta and had about just turned 30.

As is the case, the talk of town was all about allowing persons with a mental condition to run around in some fast car, or the availability of drugs, the absence of police and their inaction on this problem, and more importantly, that fear that Malta was not the idyllic and tranquil place it makes itself out to be. Next week this debate will all be forgotten and we will be talking about something else.

Some time ago, it was about a husband shooting his wife in broad daylight; then it was about a group of youngsters who crashed their vehicle after some binge drinking and died. The inability to react fast when something tragic like this happens fortifies the argument that ‘unfortunately these incidents will always happen and we cannot do much about them’.

Somehow, I am one of those who subscribe to the doctrine that doing nothing is not an option and that surely, we can do more. I am not advocating that some utopia is possible, or that prohibition, God forbid, is the answer. But surely, one cannot be so careless about the anarchy that reigns in Paceville, the capital of everything we should not stand for.

Thankfully I am too old to have ‘enjoyed’ the thrills of the early days of Paceville, where it seems even in some golden age of music bars the action was much more sedate than what there is on offer today. But I have had to sample the pleasures of this place in the role of dad-cum-taxi-driver. Begrudgingly, I have to accept that there is a preference by younger people to congregate there, and well... who can blame the parents for the actions of their children?

We have responsibilities, but we cannot put children in cages or be responsible for the criminal actions that take place in Paceville. Yet I have seen with my own eyes the realities of teenagers of Paceville, the culture of drinking and the availability of drugs, the hostile attitude of some youngsters and the high-speed driving in the small and narrow roads around Paceville.

So a PQ to home affairs minister Byron Camilleri about underage (under-17) people in Paceville apprehended by police in 2022 happened to be very opportune. He answered that in the 12 months of 2022, not one teenager under 17 was found in a bar in Paceville. Such an answer like that raises the question as to whether Camilleri has any self-esteem. As minister, had I received such an answer from the police I would have called on the Commissioner to get real and explain whether his men are even doing their job. Clearly, they aren’t.

The news of Camilleri’s latest ‘statistic’ led many Maltese teens to laugh their guts out, sniggering on social media platforms. I personally only too aware of how many under under-18s hang around in bars and clubs. Some young girls genuinely do not look 16, but that does not justify that bar and nightclub owners look the other way. This has been the tradition in Malta and Gozo and the police have done literally f***-all.

And if it were not for being physically present in a bar, many bars barefacedly sell alcohol to teenagers who go on to drink on the streets – 14 and 15-year-olds – holding Smirnoff bottles without any apparent consequence.

This is just alcohol, in a climate that has become entirely relaxed about the acquisition of recreational – and even harder – drugs, easily purchased by swiping up on their Revolut accounts, topped up by their parents, of course!

Now, it seems to be rather unfashionable to talk about drugs of late. But those parents who have had to deal with the drug dependency of their child have a different viewpoint. The truth is that the chaos in Paceville, and to a certain extent other locality, has been tolerated for far too long. Politicians have looked the other way, unwilling to act.

It is true that young people need to get out and enjoy themselves, but Malta has the most tolerant approach to young and underage people when it comes to late nights and drinking. There have been too many incidents – and even fatal ones – with drunken or drugged young passengers, and drivers and unfortunate pedestrians, and too many incidents of ‘teens getting smashed’ in the Paceville area. There are too many unwritten and unpublicised stories of dependency on drugs. And it is really no exaggeration.

The police need to wake up and be given direction. They need to have a strategy to combat these excesses. They need to be able to address the issues which are leading to personal misfortunes. To start with, they need to get their act together and see that young people who are barred from drinking because of their age do not have access to drink. How many people have been stopped for drunk-driving or have had breathalyser tests in and around drinking holes? They need to be present on the roads that lead to such nightclubs and densely packed bars, and act on persons considered dangerous.

It all comes down to political direction. Writing a small piece on the home affairs minister and his rejoinder to every tragic misadventure that happens on the road, will not get us anywhere. Which is why I would turn to Robert Abela, as Prime Minister, who should be that person that unsettles his minister and calls on him to rattle the Commissioner of Police to get going.

Failure to act will only lead to more of the same.

The most unbearable moment in one’s life is to be awoken in the middle of the night to be told that your son or daughter are no longer – disfigured by the violence of a crash and to be later told that the driver was drunk or under the influence of drugs.

There are simply too many deaths to turn a blind eye and say ‘well it was always the case in Paceville’. Yes, that might be true but the Maltese culture to tolerate the sale of alcohol to youngsters and refusing to check on drunk-driving for all ages, added to the lenient approach to drug peddling in an environment full of young, vulnerable people, is not on.

Teenagers will always want to take things to the limit. We must be there to stop them from walking off the edge.