Conference. Like me, most elected representatives are inundated by complaints from residents, in particular the elderly and other vulnerable groups, about persistent anti-social behaviour.
Problems can include:
- Youths hanging around causing a nuisance
- Persistent vandalism or criminal damage
- Drunken behaviour or underage drinking
- Noise nuisance, foul and abuse language, littering
- Persistent petty crime, such as shop-lifting
Often it is not just the individual offences, but the gradual accumulation of offences that is the real problem.
Too many of our constituents are continually living under fear. Their human rights are being undermined.
I am heavily involved in youth work. Let me make it clear, that most young people are very responsible citizens, but there is a growing problem of unruly behaviour — a culture of lawlessness.
More and more people are growing up, or even worse being brought up, with no respect for the law, and no understanding of the value of the rule of law to their own lives.
Anti-Social Behaviour Orders have been used to some effect in Great Britain since 1999. Home Office research published in 2002 found that these orders had delivered real improvements in the quality of life in numerous communities.
What are they? They are civil orders that exist to protect the public from behaviour that causes or is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress — almost like an injunction or a restraining order.
A range of statutory agencies could apply to the courts. These could be the police service, the housing executive, or a District Council.
They must show that the defendant behaved in an anti-social manner, and that an order is necessary for the protection of persons from further anti-social behaviour by the defendant.
ASBOs can be sought on a stand-alone basis, or as part of wider criminal proceedings.
The effect of these orders is to place restrictions on the behaviour or movements of the target individuals. They can apply to a shop, a number of streets, an entire housing area, or even an entire town centre.
If it is established that an individual has breached their order, a criminal prosecution can be pursued, with a maximum sentence of 5 years imprisonment.
There is a groundswell of support among the police, district Councils and some public sector agencies, such for the introduction of these orders into Northern Ireland.
Though obviously not the entire solution, they must be a major plank of a wider community safety strategy. But they are not and must not be a substitute for the enforcement of the existing criminal law.
In particular, in the Northern Ireland context, they would be another important tool in shutting out paramilitaries from running estates.
It is most regrettable that the Government has dragged their feet on this issue for six years.
Conference, join with me in demanding action now.