Mad Mullah in a BlueShirt

Posted By: March 12, 2005

Alliance Against McDowell Plan Formed

Kitty Holland

A coalition of church, civil liberties and children’s rights groups has been formed to fight the introduction of new “draconian” powers to deal with “anti-social” behaviour.

Minister for Justice Michael McDowell has confirmed his intention to introduce Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) before the end of the year, saying they had worked well in Britain.

In Britain, where they were introduced in 1998, ASBOs can be applied for by local authorities, police forces or registered social landlords, against any youth over the age of 10 allegedly involved in anti-social behaviour.

The young person is brought before the courts on a civil basis and an ASBO is made against them. If the order is breached the matter becomes a criminal matter, and the young person can be arrested.

Anti-social behaviour is defined as any “which causes harassment, alarm and distress”.

The Coalition Against ASBOs – which includes the Children’s Rights Alliance, the ISPCC, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Amnesty International, the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice and the Irish Youth Council – said yesterday ASBOs were not ! a means of dealing with the problem and would criminalise young people.

“The fact that the order is a civil order means that the burden of proof is on the balance of probabilities and not ‘beyond reasonable doubt’,” it said.

An order against a young person could be made on hearsay evidence, the coalition said, and ASBOs would be used disproportionately against young people from disadvantaged areas.

UCC law lecturer Ursula Kilkelly said that in Britain ASBOs had led to an increase in the number of young people in custody.

A third of young people against whom ASBOs had been made breached them and half of these ended up in custody, Ms Kilkelly said. The idea of introducing them here was “appalling” and they would have a “net-widening” effect. They would undermine the Children’s Act which says custody should be the sanction of last resort.

The union representing probation and welfare officers has described Mr McDowell’s plans as a “paper tiger”. Impact probation spokesman Oliver Fallon said his members had not been consulted.

He expressed concern at the possible increasing criminalisation of young people, but doubted whether there would be an increase in the number of young people in custody.

“There aren’t the places to put them,” he said. There were 34 places in Oberstown and 26 in Trinity House which were almost always full.
There were real problems with anti-social behaviour and young people, Mr Fallon said.

“We have real concerns about juvenile justice and are currently trying to roll out the Children’s Act, with limited resources,” he added.

© The Irish Times

Father Sean Mc Manus
Irish National Caucus
P.O. Box 15128
Capitol Hill
Washington, D.C. 20003-0849