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Thuggery, vandalism and urinating at playgrounds: 'We need zero tolerance to anti-social behaviour'

People’s daily lives are being blighted by persistent anti-social behaviour, writes Jim O’Callaghan.

Jim O'Callaghan

ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR is a blight on our society and the scourge of this behaviour is only worsening. Local newspapers up and down the country are filled with stories of vandalism, public drinking and gangs loitering and behaving in a threatening manner.

The period of good weather has seen a number of incidents of teens arriving at beaches across the country with huge quantities of alcohol and then drunkenly making a nuisance of themselves for families and other beach-goers.

This week saw Cork County Council debate what measures needed to be put in place to stop “neighbours from hell” urinating on fellow tenants’ doorsteps and children’s playgrounds and waking people with all-night parties.

We have read about staff on trains being physically attacked and threatened.

Last month we saw the rise of dangerous anti-social behaviour in parts of Dublin leaving Dublin Bus with no alternative but to curtail services.

Anti-social behaviour incidents on the rail service between 2016 and 2017 had increased by almost 50% from 492 to 705.

This behaviour is not just caused by teenagers – there are more and more reports of people living in local authority housing asking to be transferred to alternative accommodation because of their adult neighbour’s anti-social behaviour.

‘Damaging our sense of community’ 

Anti-social behaviour is damaging for our sense of community, it degrades our environment and it causes untold levels of stress and fear in people, particularly the most vulnerable members of our society. These trends need to be tackled head on and perpetrators need to know that this issue is being taken seriously.

There seems to be a view, shared by the Minister and by the justice system, that anti-social behaviour is an inevitable part of life, particularly in certain housing estates and in certain areas of cities. This cannot be the case and this behaviour cannot be allowed to become an accepted norm. It is high time that anti-social behaviour was recognised for what it is – criminal behaviour. It, like all criminal behaviour, must result in actual consequences for the offender.

Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) were introduced as part of the Criminal Justice Act, 2006. The regime came into force in 2007.

To date in 2018, the ASBO regime was invoked by the gardaí on 86 occasions for adult offenders and on 10 occasions for offenders under the age of 18. These are the statistics for the entire country!

Any dog on the street will tell you that these statistics do not reflect the experiences of people living in Ireland. The idea behind the ABSOs is a very good one but they need to work and be used. There is a need to simplify and strengthen the ASBOs so that people who engage in anti-social behaviour realise that there are very serious consequences.

Community gardaí

Last week, gardaí in Limerick successfully barred a man from the city centre over his repeated anti-social behaviour. This proactive approach of the gardaí is one that must be recognised.

Gardaí must be supported if they are going to tackle anti-social behaviour head on and this support must be by making the necessary resources available to them and by ensuring the legislation is in place that gives gardaí the powers necessary to address it.

In my view, the community garda has an important role to play in policing generally, but particularly in relation to anti-social behaviour. Community gardaí can build up relationships and trust with people at risk of offending, particularly young people, and direct them in a more positive direction.

The presence of community gardaí can also improve public confidence in policing for victims, who often report that currently they feel there is “no point” in reporting behaviour of this nature. Nationally, there has been a 41% decrease in the number of community gardaí since 2010.

This is an absolute disgrace and reflects the attitude of the government to this role. Fianna Fáil is calling for the creation of a community garda grade so that the current practice of community police officers being diverted away to what are perceived as more “serious” crimes is ended.

Similarly the Garda Juvenile Diversion Programme must be properly resourced and supported. Putting the issues aside that are emerging regarding the failures of the system, there is much to recommend it vis-à-vis early intervention in relation to youth offenders. Currently there are only 114 Juvenile Liaison Officers serving the entire country.

Zero tolerance

Government inaction on this issue is impacting on people’s daily life. I am working with my colleagues on a number of policy proposals and legislative changes in an effort to tackle anti-social behaviour. As part of this we are looking at what approaches have worked in other countries and what approaches haven’t.

These include:

  • On the spot fines
  • Naming and shaming of offenders
  • Compulsory parenting courses for parents of offenders who are under the age of 18
  • Curfew orders prohibiting people from being out after a certain time
  • Dispersal Ordeals giving the Gardaí greater powers to disperse gangs and
  • Public Space Protection Orders banning specific acts in certain designated areas.

Communities expect their politicians to protect them as much as possible and we need to have a zero tolerance to anti-social behaviour. The Government cannot keep ignoring what is happening across the country.

People’s daily lives are being blighted by persistent anti-social behaviour and the State, by failing to take this issue seriously, is failing these victims. Unless we get serious about anti-social behaviour, we will never tackle it.

Jim O’Callaghan is the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Justice and Equality. 

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