By HUGH KAY IRISH boys and girls "in trouble" in Britain are only a small minority of the total Irish immigrant population. But in certain areas they represent an alarmingly high proportion of the total number of young people coming into the Bands of British police and welfare officers.
The scandal is that— with certain golden exceptions—the Catholic community as a whole will not help them. NonCa tholic probation officers and other social workers boil with resent ment as they tell you of their efforts to help young Catholics without aid or encouragement f r om Catholic quarters.
An after-care official in Lon don, dealing mostly with what are called Young Prisoners (under 21 but not suitable for Borstal), told me that the proportion of Irish among her flock comes near to 75 per cent.
The areas she is concerned with have a highly concentrated Irish population. Taking the country as a whole, the figure for immigrant Irish boys in Borstals alone is probably something like 10 per cent.
If you take the ratio of Irish to the whole British population, it ought not to be more than one or two per cent. But special factors are introduced by the hazards of loneliness in a strange country and a complete lack of sophistication.
And the proportion of Catholics of all racial strains to the total Borstal population is certainly very much higher than that of the Irish alone.
What sort of trouble does the Irish boy or girl get into? At London's Central Criminal Court it is estimated that Irishmen account for nearly 40 per cent of crimes of violence.
The Irishman's offence is usually grievous bodily harm rather than robbery with violence. It arises through pub brawls or sudden bursts of fighting temper. The Irishman does not loom large in the ranks of the professional criminal.
Adult Irishmen are rarely involved in sexual offences. I have, however, met a number of late adolescent Irish lads who have discovered the financial advantages of importuning homosexuals. Irish girls are less involved in prostitution since the streets were cleared by Act of Parliament. They have little of the deliberation necessary for complex call-girl arrangements.
The majority of young Irish people in trouble have committed trivial offences. Stealing milk bottles at five o'clock in the morning out of sheer hunger and thirst, and similar offences, account for many of those lining up for the probation officer's help. Every week, police court funds send numbers of immigrants home to Ireland.
The girls have either committed trifling offences out of sheer distress, or are about to become unmarried mothers. Probation officers' difficulties arise when they try to place the young people in lodgings and hostels.
In 1960, 800 out of 6,500 unmarried mothers in London were Irish.
The problem is heightened by the large numbers of non-delinquent immigrants who are also in need of shelter. There are 12,000 homeless in London every night. Some 40 per cent of these are Irish.
The placing of the innocent, or comparatively innocent, is difficult enough. The number of Catholic refuges and hostels in London can be counted almost on the fingers of one hand.
Probation officers speak in terms of high praise of the hostels run by the Sisters of St. Vincent tie Paul. There is temporary accommodation at the two Irish Centres, the Sisters of Mercy establishment at Crispin Street, and, of course. St. Gemma's. There are also one or two other residential hostels and homes for unmarried mothers. But all these are heavily overstrained. Many more centres are desperately needed.
The Irish Centre, which never reruses an ordinary immigrant, has its hands full keeping people out of trouble. What do you do when a penniless immigrant, innocent hut clueless. arrives with several children? The treatment of offenders requires a separate establishment.
Probation officers seeking shelter for young people who have come before the courts have to send Catholics to all sorts of nonCatholic and secular refuges. Fifty per cent of the people cared for in the Rev. Bertram Peake's Gol borne Centre are Irish. Many Irish are also helped by the St. Martin's-inthe-Fields Social Service.
Dedicated non-Catholic social workers complain that Catholics as a whole insist too much on looking after the good; that there is far too little provision for the girl who has
been in trouble. but who only needs a good hostel where she can find friendship and stability, and from which she can go out to work each day.
One of the golden exceptions is the Legion of Mary. Their job is not to find money for buildings. But the person to person apostolate they conduct is highly valued by police and welfare workers of all faiths and none.
It takes the form of meeting immigrants at railway stations, befriending offenders, spending hours in cafes where strays and prostitutes can be met and helped. Immense trouble is taken to find homes and jobs for those who need them.
The Legion urgently needs more help. Anyone inspired to muscle in should contact their local Legion branch at once.
Another plea by non-Catholic social workers is for Catholic centres for psycho-therapy and the use of the group discussion method. A worker among Borstal boys pleaded, too, that the training of these boys is never going to be fully effective unless their families can be trained as well. Too often, it is utterly unsafe to send a boy back to his own home.
This, he said, is a problem which needs to be attacked on parish level. If, while a boy is in Borstal, parish priests with trained lay helpers could work on his family, he could come home to an environment sympathetic to the new attitudes developed during his Borstal course.
A "rebel band" of 20 or so probation officers and social workers met at St. Martin's-in-the Fields last week to design a crash programme for getting more hostels and refuges, centres and half-way houses built and for getting together lists of sympathetic landladies ready to give homes to young ex-offenders. Again, the laity should be trained for the work of running the various establishments.
Only one of the 20 was a Catholic. He is Mr. A. G. WallichClifford, a professional social worker, who hopes to induce Catholic societies to rally to the group's aid. One of the greatest needs. he says, is a half-way house to help the released offender, who has been over-institutionalised, to move into normal social living.
Such a youngster, if planted in digs on his own, grievously misses the companionship he has hitherto enjoyed. This condition is pregnant with danger.
One of the first tasks of this new group will be to compile a central register of all those who can help. They urge that the Catholic cornmunity needs a central office to coordinate its own social services and co-operate with others.