Call for reform of Children's Court before Asbos

 

The Minister for Justice should ensure the Children's Court system is "radically improved" before he introduces anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos), the Dáil was told.

TDs also heard that the orders were the equivalent of a "yellow card" for offenders who would not be criminalised if they did not reoffend. However Government backbenchers also warned that the orders should not create a "charter for bullies", and expressed concern at the use of Asbos against children.

Pat Carey (FF, Dublin North-West) said that before the Minister introduced Asbos he should radically improve the Children's Court system "because it is currently failing children and us".

"Rather than removing them from criminal activity it is causing them to enter an endless cycle of offending and detention. That is the awful reality that many people face every day."

In a recent study of 1,000 Children's Court cases "many of the children were granted bail with conditions such as a curfew, restrictions on movement or a direction to stay away from alcohol and drugs. This is the type of restorative justice that we hope will stop children taking up criminal activity in the first place.

"However, the reality is that this is not happening. That lack of bail support and lack of resources for the probation services means that many of these conditions are too difficult, time-consuming and too draining and are setting up young people to fail."

Barry Andrews (FF, Dún Laoghaire) said that if sections of the Children's Act of 2001 were implemented they would address concerns being expressed by the public without "going down the road of using Asbos for children"..

He said Asbos were good in theory, and he supported their inclusion in the legislation. However a clear and simple definition of anti-social behaviour had to be provided so as to avoid creating a "charter for bullies".

He added that "people forget that the Minister has proposed the equivalent of a yellow card for offenders so that they know if they reoffend they face the possibility of criminal sanction, but if they do not there is no danger of them being criminalised".

However, John McGuinness (FF, Carlow-Kilkenny) described the anti-social order as a "blunt instrument" which should not be applied in the way suggested.

"It is insufficiently defined, and significant harm could be done to young people in this country. It is the wrong way to deal with anti-social behaviour. We should examine the legislation that is already in place but not implemented."

Another Fianna Fail deputy, Mr Billy Kelleher (Cork North Central), believed the orders would be an effective system for offenders involved in serious forms of anti-social behaviour.

"It is important to distinguish between teenage pranks and serious continuing anti-social behaviour."

He had visited Britain to observe the implementation of Asbos, and his impression from speaking to people involved was that they had transformed communities.