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Anti-social behaviour should be tackled in a ‘measured way’, says Council

Abercorn Park in Portadown
Abercorn Park in Portadown was closed last year following vandalism

ABC Council officers are of the view that antisocial behaviour should be tackled in a measured way – for instance by tackling ‘nuisance drinking’ in public, while allowing others to enjoy a quiet drink.

The local authority made its views known as part of its response to Department of Justice (DoJ) and Department for Communities (DfC) proposals aimed at improving the system of dealing with Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB) in Northern Ireland, and bringing it into line with other UK regions.

Summarising council policy, council officers explained in their draft response that Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) are not being used by the local authority.

In their report, endorsed by councillors at an Environmental Committee meeting held on Tuesday (February 6), they wrote: “No Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) have been sought since the legislation was introduced in 2004.

“Great efforts are instead made through the PCSP and the community wardens to ensure that local issues are dealt with by policing resources and / or the input of the community wardens.

“In addition, the provision of youth activities and services including community programmes and targeted support (…) limit Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB) without recourse to the courts.

“Furthermore, in relation to individuals causing ASB, the council facilitates local ASB Forums to allow the relevant authorities to meet, share intelligence, and target their existing resources towards the best outcomes to reduce the occurrence of ASB.”

As stated above, the issue of alcohol consumption in public is handled on a case-by-case basis by the ABC Council, as officers explained in their report: “The consumption of alcohol per se should not be regulated. Instead its use as a driver for criminal behaviour or breach of the peace should be targeted.

“[The seizure of alcohol should be] limited to individuals engaged in offensive conduct, or using or engaging in threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, with intent to provoke a breach of the peace.

“Adequate warning [should be] given to cease drinking before any seizure takes place.”

ABC Council is also recommending “replacing the current bye-law system with amended or new legislation that is fit for purpose, applying across Northern Ireland.”

The report adds: “This will provide comprehensive powers which will apply across Northern Ireland, leading to greater clarity for members of the public and PSNI officers enforcing the legislation.

“If ASBOs are to be used as a tool they should be exclusively for adults. Those under 18 should not be placed within the courts system for ASB matters.

“Separate criminal legislation exists to deal with serious offences such as criminal damage, harassment, drug dealing etc.

“Lower-scale, non-criminal offences should not lead to court proceedings. Adequately funded community and diversionary resources should be provided instead of ASBOs.

“ASBOs are currently not used. Lowering the threshold for their application is unlikely to lead to greater use, and will only increase expectation that this is a tool that relevant authorities will use.

“It remains unclear that councils as relevant authorities have the resources and expertise to start using ASBOs as a broad tool to address lower-level problems.

“Almost all cases of lower-level ASB involve addiction, mental health issues and other vulnerabilities. These should not be subject to ASBOs.

“Other non-criminal mechanisms should be provided by the Health and Social Care sector to address these as primary public health issues.

“These should be tackled in community settings by specialists who can support individuals in changing their life patterns, and in turn addressing what the rest of the community perceive as ASB.

“ASBOs should only be considered in the most extreme circumstances where all other efforts have failed.

“Council consider that the Housing Associations and the Housing Executive should be provided with adequate powers to require positive requirements from their tenants outside of the ASBO system.

“Positive requirements are entirely sensible in tackling the root causes of ‘ASB’ or criminal behaviour and should be fully funded, readily available and accessible to support those individuals with addiction, mental health, and other issues, without the need to be linked to a criminal enforcement tool that is so rarely used in Northern Ireland.

The draft response was proposed by Councillor Mary O’Dowd (Sinn Féin, Lurgan DEA) and seconded by Councillor Joy Ferguson (Alliance, Banbridge DEA).

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