ASBOs won’t cure the pain

14th September 2005

Here are a few examples of Anti Social Behaviour Orders (ASBO) from Britain cited by the National Youth Council of Ireland in their campaign against the introduction of ASBOs to Ireland.

• A 13 year old was banned from using the word ‘grass’
• A 16 year old was banned from showing his tattoos.
• A profoundly deaf girl was served an order for spitting in public.
• An 87 year old was forbidden from being sarcastic to his neighbours.
• A 17 year old was banned from travelling on the top deck of buses
• A football fan was banned from playing ball games in the street
• An Eminem and Dido fan was banned from owning a stereo, radio or TV.
• A 17 year old was ordered not to enter or leave his home except by a back alley.
• A 21 year old was banned from wearing a woolly hat, baseball cap or hooded top.
• A 23 year old who repeatedly tried to kill herself was ordered not to go near railway lines, rivers, bridges and multistory car parks.
• A 27 year old was banned from answering the front door in her underwear.

The purpose of publishing this list is, presumably, to make us all shudder in horror at the pettiness and painlessness of these restrictions.

But hold on! Some of them seem pretty reasonable to me.

Take the one about the deaf girl spitting. Are they trying to say that just because she’s deaf she shouldn’t be held accountable for her behaviour?

Then there’s the 17 year-old being banned from the top deck of a bus. Well, everyone in this city has met someone who has made bus passengers lives miserable. Don’t passengers have rights too?

I suspect that lots of people would only be too glad to see many of the ASBO heads thrown to the wolves. But they are missing the point.

There are actually three main problems with ASBO’s. Firstly, no one is sure if they work. Secondly, they drive a cart and horses through the concept of due process. And thirdly the avoid the main problem, which is the decline of community.

A young person may be saddled with an ASBO on the word of a senior garda. A judge won’t have to operate under the principle of ‘reasonable doubt’. If the young person then breaks the ASBO, they will be committing a criminal offence.

So long as the young person is cowed by the ASBO, we’re winning. If they break the ASBO, then we’re going to have to jail them for littering or whatever.

And if you send someone to jail, you better keep them there, because there’s no better way of producing career criminals.

Such heavy-handedness could cause huge resentment and weaken the reputation of the gardai, the housing authorities and the local authorities who will be called on to collect evidence for ASBOs.

Michael McDowell says they are a last resort. Maybe. But it looks like a defeat to me, as if the State is throwing in the towel on community development.

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