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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Anti Social Behaviour, a sign of our times?

Anti Social Behaviour is one of the most difficult issues that affects urban living. It’s symptoms are visible, graffiti, vandalism, damage to public property, violence, assault or threats. Add to that the psychological impact of people who feel threatened and change their behaviour patterns to the point where they feel they are prisoners in their own home. Wexford has no less nor no greater a problem than any other town of its size. There are parts of the town that suffer and there are parts of the town where it is not a big issue. This applies equally to public and private estates. I have received calls to my phone at 1 or 2 AM from communities where they are suffering to the extent that the only thing some people can do is ring their councillor.

There is a knee jerk response from some parties that seem to have all the answers but what I find interesting is that these councillors don’t seem to get the calls I do! I have huge sympathy particularly for people who’ve reared their family and after having a busy house now find it empty and feel really threatened and at the mercy of these youths. My initial response is what do these teenager’s parents think they’re doing out at this time of night? What about parental responsibility? I think however that anyone that rings me deep down are asking themselves is; what’s the states response?

It’s a fair question and lets be honest, telling someone from the comfort of your own bed that the gardaí will deal with it is pretty useless. The callers usually haven’t had any sleep and they’re rightly in no form for my potted polemic on the alienation of the youth generation in a post-modern recessionary republic.

I attended a conference a fortnight ago in Carrick On Suir about this problem. The topic was addressed in the context of the real cost of anti-social behaviour to our society. Senator Phil Prendergast spoke about how it has impacted on A&E particularly by night when fighting continues on in the waiting room. Professor John Hillary, spoke about the impact of anti-social behaviour on marginalised societies. The reality is that many of the dysfunctional families from which those responsible come do not just have a stake in our society but the parents who should be exercising control do not have a stake in the family. Where anti-social behaviour occurs regularly, often the male (a key influence on young boys) is absent, often the family income is low and often the family’s main source of income is social welfare. This family unit often needs financial assistance in providing for their housing needs. Often those responsible leave school early and have poor life prospects. While I go along with that and there’s nothing new to me in most of that, I strongly believe other factors are at play, why is it that some communities with these social indicators sometimes have much less ASB than others?

My feeling is that there is at least one main factor at play whose influence on our society is elusive and has yet to be properly evaluated and that is drugs and I include alcohol in that. As we see notably but not exclusively in some parts of both Dublin and Limerick some people have thrived on the creation of a third class, an underclass. The values these people (McCarthy, Dundon, Keanes, Collopys, Ryan’s, Hylands, Fatpuss Bradley, Christy Griffin etc,) have instilled in their communities counter the ethos of what a progressive, modern and socially integrated community should be. The inability of decision makers in our society to connect with these communities needs gives these families the platform from which to build their empires of free market crime unregulated by a government that is driven by an inherent suspicion of doing anything that sounds like real work?

And here’s what the problem is, pass the legislation (which was better than that in the UK) but in the case of Wexford use it rarely if at all. What was the point in bringing in orders if they were not going to be issued in relation to the hard core? The woman made that early morning call to me asks me was it all for the optics and did they mean it all? I have to accept her point. I think that urban regeneration is only going to be provide in a few centres and if the government think that that’s anti-social behaviour nationally sorted then they’re wrong. Much more needs to be done so that communities can feel secure again.


Cllr Keith Martin said...

There is nothing new about anti social behaviour, except for its scale.
Policing has not kept up with it and by policing I mean community policing not law enforcement, people need to be guided not jailed on this issue.

Involved local gardai who know their community and fines and community service are the way forward otherwise all we are doing is turning messers (sic) into professional criminals by sending them to prision which are just universities for young criminals.

We need Guards in town centres on patrol at night. There just are not enough Guards and FF PD never delivered on the promised 2,000 extra.

That's my two cents

Senator Dominic Hannigan said...

Good Points, Joe. The new Housing Bill is proposing some changes in local authority tenancy conditions at the moment, including the issue of anti-social behaviour. I took the Committee Stage in the Seanad last week. It wil resume in a few weeks time and will probably be law early in the new year. Let me know if you have any comments on it.

By the way, very impressive blog. Keep up the good work! Dominic

Wexford Musings said...

Senator Hannigan,

As a person who has experienced ASB personally I anticipate whatever changes will be brought in to help.


I agree with most of your sentiment but would not rule out the impact the Gardai and law enforcement can have. We all remember the local papers a few months ago announcing the Michael J Sinnott Drive was the worst (Wexford County Council) Housing Estate in the county. Since the village has gotten a full time Gardai presence with 2 extra Gardai and a full time patrol car, I can confirm that ASB has plummeted. We do need to look at the reasons why ASB happens but this comes after pandering to the scum and drug dealers that is destroying the community around us.

Again in Wexford, there has been a marked difference with Gardai on patrol on the streets during the nights on the weekend but still more are needed. It is true that the government never delivered on their promise but tell me what promises did they keep - employ more teachers, reduce class sizes, the list goes on...

Thats my 4 cents