Alliance Party Justice Spokesperson, Dr Stephen Farry, has welcomed the moves in Westminster today to pass legislation dealing with Hate Crimes, Car Crime and Anti-Social Behaviour.
Stephen Farry stated:
“Alliance has been campaigning for the introduction of Hate Crime laws in Northern Ireland for several years.
“We first presented proposals in this area to the then Secretary of State in July 2000. His successor, John Reid, then announced the Government’s intention to legislate at the 2001 Labour Party Conference. It is disappointing that it has taken three years to get to this stage.
“These laws will provide stiffer sentences for those convicted by crimes motivated by sectarianism, racism and homophobia.
“They are badly needed. The problem of sectarian crime is still far too prevalent in Northern Ireland. There has been a worrying increase in racist attacks, including one this weekend. Notably, Northern Ireland will be the first part of the UK to get legislation dealing with homophobic crime. Again, there have been a growing number of attacks in this area.
“Anti-Social Behaviour Orders are also badly needed in Northern Ireland, as complaints regarding anti-social behaviour are high on the list of every elected representative.
“Far too many residents are tortured by persistent loutish behaviour and vandalism. It is not always possible to deal with such problems through criminal prosecutions. At present, such residents are forced to suffer in silence, with their rights regularly abused.
“While there has been some controversy in Northern Ireland regarding the perceived lack of consultation over ASBOs, it must be borne in mind that they are not a new creation. Indeed, they have been available in Great Britain since 1999. Within Northern Ireland, a number of agencies, most notably the Housing Executive, have been seeking their introduction for some time.
“Within Great Britain, they have been used with considerable success in certain areas. They have not been challenged under the Human Rights Act.
“I do not accept that argument that Northern Ireland is so different from Great Britain that they are not appropriate here, or that the subjects of ASBOs will fall into the hands of the paramilitaries.
“Those involved in anti-social behaviour are already well-known to the paramilitaries. Some are actually involved in paramilitary activity. Indeed, when the formal criminal justice system fails, an unfortunate opportunity for paramilitaries is created. ASBOs, if successfully implemented, may actually take vulnerable young people out of the hands of the paramilitaries.
“However, much work is required regarding their implementation. Powers are to be transferred to the police, District Councils and the Housing Executive. It is unclear who has the primary responsibility for action in different circumstances, and how the actions of different agencies will be co-ordinated. ASBOs could easily fall through the jurisdictional cracks between agencies.
“Ultimately, ASBOs only deal with symptoms not causes. They must be only one part of a broader strategy to provide programmes and facilities to take young people off the streets.”