Madam, - While we acknowledge that anti-social behaviour is a very serious problem, Michael McDowell's proposals are yet again a heavy-handed approach to a complex issue.
Evidence from the UK would suggest that ASBOs have brought relief to local communities in combating anti-social behaviour but the outcomes are far from positive for the children. Criminalising children from an early age for non-offending behaviour can only lead to many problems for communities further down the line.
The Minister's approach to anti-social behaviour makes no attempt to deal with the underlying problems which cause such behaviour.
Research published in the British Medical Journal has shown that anti-social children are at risk of lifelong social exclusion and of becoming a significant drain on the public purse. A significant finding is that simple early intervention in the form of parent training can prevent serious problems in later life.
We would strongly argue in favour of community-based preventive programmes that offer support for children and their families. Increased investment in young people's services and facilities, health and education would be more effective in the long run. While some would argue that such programmes are costly, it would only amount to a fraction of the €95,000 a year it costs to keep a child in prison.
The Young People's Services and Facilities Fund has funded programmes in the north-east inner city which empower communities to tackle the problem of anti-social behaviour at a local level. Together with other programmes such as the Young People at Risk initiative they provide a real impetus to address the root causes of the problem.
Mr McDowell's draconian proposals will only undermine the effective work being undertaken on the ground to divert young people away from anti-social behaviour. - Yours, etc.,
SIAN MULDOWNEY, Co-ordinator, ICON (Inner City Organisations Network), Lower Buckingham Street, Dublin 1.