The vexed issue of anti-social behaviour in housing estates and unruly threatening behaviour from those responsible continues to preoccupy the authorities.
Albeit with some reluctance Laois County Council are now being urged to take a more robust stance and evict the culprits and repeat offenders, if that’s what it takes to protect the law abiding majority of residents.
There have also been more calls for the Garda to intervene when anti-social behaviour escalates to outright criminality and to involve the courts.
This week’s meeting of Laois County Council heard the astonishing revelation from one councillor that he himself was threatened for highlighting such incidents.
The issue was initially raised by Cllr Aisling Moran who said that the Council needed to introduce stronger penalties for repeated anti-social behaviour as it should not be tolerated.
The problem has been brought into the public domain repeatedly in recent weeks with major difficulties being identified in Portlaoise, Portarlington and Graiguecullen.
The official response given to Cllr Moran was as follows:
“The Laois County Council Anti-Social Behaviour Strategy was adopted by the Elected Members in October 2010. Estate Management staff in the Housing Department deal with all incidents in an effective and efficient manner. Laois County Council endeavours to use all necessary measures available under the current legislation to prevent and abate anti-social behaviour. This strategy could be considered for review at the next Housing SPC meeting.”
However, the extent and nature of the problem appears to have escalated considerably since that 2010 policy was formulated. Neither is the Housing SPC up and running. Even though the elections were held in May the councillors still don’t know what SPC they are assigned and latest indications are that they may not be in place until November.
Cllr Aisling Moran called for a legislative change if that’s what is required and to evict those responsible for repeat offences she proposed.
Supporting the motion Cllr Caroline Dwane-Stanley said that the Council need to have a more pro-active role other than merely having a policy. She spoke of absolute criminality in some estates and yet there was little or no enforcement.
“We’re not talking about someone playing loud music here we are talking about absolute criminality and extreme cases which need to tackled. A slap on the wrist won’t work we need to put the law to the test and evict if necessary in the case of serious criminal behaviour,” she said, adding, “Put it to the test, or what’s the point in having rules if they are not used. We should have a strict zero tolerance approach.”
Cllr Thomasina Connell commended her colleague Cllr Moran for her ‘brave’ motion.
“The Council need to step up and take firmer action,” she asserted but wasn’t sure if eviction was the answer as under present legislation you could end back up at square one, as those responsible go back on the housing list.
“On balance good tenants are being upset by the outrageous behaviour of others and we are talking about drug dealing and houses being burned out and we must adopt a firmer approach and a strategy to stop this.”
Cllr Noel Tuohy said that the idea of evictions had a particular historical resonance for Irish people and it stuck in his craw and not something he would contemplate. He said the culprits responsible should be dealt with by the authorities but that the blame should not impact on their children or wives.
Thugs, criminals and gangsters
Cllr Aidan Mullins said that they were talking about criminality of the worst order and revealed that he himself had been threatened by those responsible for highlighting their carry-on.
“These are thugs and criminals, gangsters. They are threatening people and they will follow through, I myself have been threatened. People won’t make a statement as they fear for their safety. These people are making life a living hell for their neighbours and while eviction is an emotive issue there has to be some ultimate deterrent.
“We are talking about extreme cases and we don’t have the Garda resources. The guards come in, drive around and are gone. There are no community Garda in Portarlington at all, they are never there, you can’t get them. Residents have no support. We have an intercom on the wall, that’s what we have as a Garda Station,” was his sorry assessment of affairs.”
Cllr Tom Mulhall said that a couple of bad tenants could destroy an entire area and cause mayhem. Parents are afraid to allow their children out to play.
Cllr Padraig Fleming said that there were a litany of complaints going back years and that the fear factor was real. The question is he said, “What are the Council going to do?”
Director of Services, Mr Michael Rainey accepted that the scenario these days is far more challenging than 2010 when they set out their strategy but he said their housing staff are constantly doing their best and actively engaging on these issues.
“Maybe we’re not being firm enough and we’ll have to look at that but evictions and courts are not the end of our relationship, even if we do take more cases as we are dealing with families with children and must involve social workers to engage with them. Tenancy management is our remit and many of the issues being raised here are criminal matters,” he observed.
3-strikes-rule and evict
Cllr Moran who initiated the debate asked: “What rights do all the law abiding citizens have? Is it fair that their houses are depreciating in value and they can do nothing about it? Is it fair that they feel unsafe in their own communities?
“I would suggest that the only way to stop this behaviour is to introduce penalties, and these penalties need to be implemented. The Council need to take a much more firm approach to antisocial behaviour.
“It needs to be dealt with, through a transparent process that will eventually result in eviction. We need to change the legislation. I would suggest a three-strike-rule,” she proposed as the best deterrent.
The issue is likely to be raised again at the Joint Policing Committee meeting later this month.