Conference. Alliance has been to the forefront of lobbying efforts to bring Anti-Social Behaviour Orders into Northern Ireland.
There is strong support for these measures across the community. I do believe that the argument, in principle, has at long last been won.
But the real battle is going to be ensure
- That effective decision-making structures are put in place to ensure:
- That the responsible authorities do indeed take forward cases; and
- That they are held to account for failure to act.
In England and Wales, the process is much simpler as you have on the one hand the local police services, and on the other hand local authorities with responsibility for housing, education, schools, the streets, and the general well-being of local communities.
It remains to be seen what changes will emerge here from the current Review of Public Administration.
But in Northern Ireland at present, responsibilities are split between so many different agencies: the police, the housing education, education and library boards, the Roads Service, and District Councils.
In truth, no one is really in charge. Instead, what we have is a big culture of buck-passing.
If an issue falls along the cracks of organisation’s jurisdictions, then the temptation is there for agencies to wash their hands of awkward problems.
We have already seen this in action over attempts to deal with the paramilitary flags and murals that scar far too many parts of Northern Ireland.
There are many questions regarding how ASBOs can be delivered in Northern Ireland that have still to be answered.
Will the police only become involved with ASBOs in relation to formal criminal prosecutions?
Will the Housing Executive only become involved with ASBOs in relation to activities within public housing estates?
Will District Councils be only able to become involved with ASBOs in relation to their own property, such as parks, on in relation to their existing powers, for example noise pollution?
I have a very real concern that much anti-social behaviour will fall through the jurisdictional gap.
This is all before we explore the issue of where the funding for the pursuit of civil actions is going to come from.
Part of the action may lie in making all public bodies, including the Housing Executive, the Roads Service, District Councils legally accountable for crime reduction.
Conference, I urge you to support the motion, but also to recognise that it is not enough to place the powers onto the statute books, they have to be used.