Dáil debates

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Ceisteanna - Questions

Juvenile Offenders

1:00 pm

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 38: To ask the Minister for Justice and Law Reform if he will confirm that just three Anti Social Behaviour Orders have been placed on young offenders since the legislation was enacted in 2006; the reason this power has been used so little having regard to claims made at the time the legislation was published of the role they could play to reduce anti-social behaviour; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43091/10]

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

The Children Act 2001 was amended by Part 13 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 to provide for civil proceedings regarding anti-social behaviour by children. These provisions, which were commenced on 1 March 2007, set out an incremental procedure for addressing anti-social behaviour by children. They are just one element of the Government's policy on youth crime, which is set out in detail in the national youth justice strategy 2008-10. The approach adopted by the Government involves an incremental process of diversion from the formal criminal justice system, community sanctions as alternatives to custody and detention as a last resort. In the case of anti-social behaviour, the diversion process includes the use of warnings, good behaviour contracts and anti-social behaviour orders where appropriate. In the event that the behaviour warning or good behaviour contract fails to change a young person's anti-social behaviour, it is only then that further measures such as the anti-social behaviour order or other diversion approaches might be used.

For this reason the number of anti-social behaviour orders should not be considered in isolation but must be viewed as part of a wider incremental process to deal with anti-social behaviour. I am informed by the Garda authorities that, up to 30 October 2010, 1,541 behaviour warnings have been issued to children, 15 good behaviour contracts have been made with children and three behaviour orders have been issued by the courts. It was always the intention that this approach to anti-social behaviour would operate as part and parcel of the Garda diversion programme.

The diversion programme operates in accordance with Part 4 of the Children Act 2001, as amended, and under the general superintendence and control of the Garda Commissioner. The aim of the programme is to deal with children who offend, by way of administering a formal or informal caution, thus diverting the offender away from the courts and minimising the likelihood of further offending. The programme has proven to be successful in diverting young persons away from crime and anti-social behaviour by offering guidance and support to juveniles and their families. In the event that warnings or good behaviour contracts prove inadequate to deter a young person from anti-social behaviour, the next step is to use the structures of the diversion programme before resorting to behaviour orders or criminal prosecution.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Why does the Minister think the anti-social behaviour orders have been such a complete and abject failure?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I do not believe they are. We have had this discussion already. A hallmark of the success of the anti-social behaviour orders is that so few children have been brought to court. The idea behind the system is to divert children away from the courts and to engage with them in an incremental way. As the Deputy can see from the figures, that is the strong advice from the experts in this regard, especially the Garda. They say that when they engage with young people who come to their attention for anti-social behaviour, and when they deal with their wider family, in particular in the context of the contracts, and contacts before they enter into the good behaviour contract, those children do not again come to the attention of the Garda Síochána.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Is it not the case that since the law was invoked in 2007 three anti-social behaviour orders have been made? Is it not the case that the Garda Síochána do not in reality operate the system? The Minister has referred to 1,541 warnings. Is it not the case that they are entirely meaningless? Since the Garda Síochána was established in 1922 gardaí warned young fellows. What does that have to do with it?

The Minister is getting a reputation for saying whatever comes into his head. He said the bank situation was a fiction. He has a habit of just staring the facts in the face and denying them. Is it not the case that the most serious problem in my constituency, and in most urban constituencies, is low-level anti-social behaviour by young people in communities who are torturing law-abiding citizens in their own homes? Those youngsters target vulnerable people. They attack their homes and insert obscene and lighted material through their letter boxes, damage their cars and pester people who live alone, especially women and immigrants. That is happening everywhere. Three ASBOs have been implemented since 2007. The Minister has informed me the system is an outstanding success. What is the point in having Question Time with him?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Deputy Rabbitte seems to think the more anti-social behaviour orders are made the more successful is the system. I disagree on the basis that the concept of this procedure is that it is used in an incremental way. Fewer orders and a reduction in the number of occasions the Garda Síochána brings young people before the courts is a hallmark of the success of the system. Deputy Rabbitte is trying to encourage the Garda Síochána to serve ASBOs on every child who comes before it, whereas if the Garda interact with them and their families before it gets to the stage of bringing children to court the situation will be improved.

The idea was to prevent children from going into the criminal justice system. This is a civil procedure designed to allow a little more flexibility in terms of how one interacts with children. I am very supportive of the fact that we should divert children away from the criminal justice system and not bring them to court, penalise them or put them into prison and to use anti-social behaviour legislation to interact with them in a much more holistic way. It goes against the philosophy Deputy Rabbitte's party sometimes espouses for him to say that the more ASBOs that are implemented the more successful is the system. I disagree with him.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

What I am trying to do is provide protection to communities and persons who are adversely affected by anti-social behaviour. For the Minister to say I am trying to encourage the Garda to apply an ASBO to every child when three have been applied since the system was introduced is fantastic and ridiculous.

Is it not the case that the Minister committed to a range of measures in this area in the programme for government but that he has not implemented any of them? It is very easy to introduce legislation on ASBOs, in the same way it is easy to enact legislation in other areas. There is a commitment to providing a community pay-back scheme that will require offenders who are not subject to automatic long terms in prison to provide real services for communities they have damaged. Another commitment is to provide a system of parental responsibility for criminal damage. A further commitment is to create anti-social behaviour action teams. There is also a commitment to legislate to allow gardaí to issue restriction orders. There are 29 other commitments. Is the programme for government to have any credibility or is it just for the optics? The Minister has outlined a range of commitments but he has not implemented any of them.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

As the Deputy should know we have funded a number of very successful restorative justice projects that are up and running. Over time I would like to see more use of them across the various courts. Equally so, since I became Minister I introduced significant reform in terms of trying to use community service orders as an alternative to prison in order to allow pay-back to communities. I refer to community service orders to assist tidy towns groups in graffiti removal and other such tasks.

To return to ASBOs, I implacably disagree with the Deputy on what he, in effect, is trying to do. I accept there is a problem with anti-social behaviour in the country. There are other laws, apart from the ASBO legislation that could deal with the matter and no doubt they are used by the Garda Síochána in that respect. The principle behind the legislation is, in effect, that the fewer orders made and the fewer occasions on which children are brought to court, which is the ultimate sanction, the more successful the scheme is because one has already intervened with the children and their parents and they do not come to the notice of the Garda Síochána any further.