19 May 2005 Edition
ASBOs don't work
Watching last Friday night's Late Late Show debate on Anti-Social Behavioural Orders, I was amazed at the amount of inaccurate information being used by the pro-ASBO speakers.
One guest said that the orders, which have been in use in Britain for six years and were introduced in the North last year, have been proven to be successful.
If that's so, why did Tony Blair, in his first speech after being re-elected Prime Minister, feel compelled to promise British citizens that he would make his next term about creating a 'culture of respect'?
Surely if ASBOs, which are allegedly aimed at curtailing behaviour which causes harassment, harm or distress, worked, six years would be long enough for them to have created that culture of respect?
The fact is they don't work.
The number of ASBOs issued in Britain has escalated over the years and there is ample evidence of their being abused by a number of police stations throughout Britain, with young and homeless people, as well as people with mental health problems, being the targets of such abuse.
Some of the Orders issued have contained nonsensical terms, such as that in which a 13-year-old boy was banned from using the word 'grass' anywhere in England or Wales.
There is also concern that people are being jailed for breaching ASBOs, when the original offence was itself non-imprisonable.
A whole raft of human rights and community groups are now calling on the Home Office to review the Orders. The fact that crime in Britain has actually increased in the years since their introduction should be basis enough for a review.
Unfortunately, the erroneous argument that ASBOs have worked in Britain, is one which I'm sure we'll hear time and time again as the debate over whether they should be introduced here heats up.
Of note on Friday's show was a contribution from a former Garda in the audience. The man pointed out that this state has enough legislation to deal with anti-social behaviour, but not the police resources to implement it. People should remember that the introduction of these supposed catch-all orders won't come with any additional resources.
For me, the iconic image of the Westminster elections at the start of the month was not the triumph of Conor Murphy taking a seat in Newry & Armagh. Nor was it the dramatic collapse of the UUP and the end of David Trimble's political career (he won a Peace Prize, you know).
Rather, it was a brief incident that took place in the canteen of the count centre in Dromore, where the South Down and Lagan Valley votes were being counted. Sitting in the canteen and drinking coffee while the slowest election count I have ever witnessed meandered into its fifth hour, I was unsurprised to see local SDLP MP Eddie McGrady drop up for a cup of coffee himself.
But I was a little surprised when I noticed that he walked the length of the canteen to sit with Jeffrey Donaldson's Lagan Valley DUP campaign team, who were now aware that McGrady would retain the seat, albeit with a reduced majority, from Sinn Féin's Caitríona Ruane. And when I observed the congratulatory handshakes and the wide grins of the DUP activists, the hearty cheers and backslapping for 'their' man in South Down, two thoughts came to mind.
Was this the same SDLP that ran a 2003 Assembly election campaign on the slogan 'Stop the DUP', now sitting down with them to celebrate preventing republicans taking a seat?
The other is a line from the end of Animal Farm, where the oppressed animals "looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which".
Ballybough , Dublin 3.
It was great to see the extensive election coverage in last week's An Phoblacht.
No matter how much we like to imagine that censorship of republicanism is dead in the water, An Phoblacht is still the only paper where you can read about Sinn Féin's success without a negative spin being put on it.
Long may the paper bring us the real story of the party's electoral growth and a truthful analysis of the developments in Irish politics.
Keep up the good work.
Tackling hate crime
The recent attack on a man in Dublin as he left a well-known gay pub in the city centre is the latest in a series of hate crimes in the capital perpetrated by mindless thugs who consider anyone different to them to be some sort of threat. The same thugs have been responsible for recent racist and anti-Semitic attacks in Dublin's Ringsend.
This sort of crime, fuelled by ignorance and hate, is on the increase, but the government, typically, chooses to ignore it. As the more cynical among us suspect, it will take an unnecessary death before the publicity-driven Bertie Ahern is spurred into action by public outcry and editorial lines.
Meanwhile, the Minister for Injustice, Michael McDowell, delighted this week in telling us that €6.5 million is to be awarded to the Gardaí to fund a new operation to tackle organised crime. The Gardaí say the money will be used for a combination of intelligence-driven and high profile policing.
What exactly does that mean? Does it mean more special branch coppers sitting behind desks scratching their Neanderthal heads and trying to figure out where the latest heist is going down - while 20 minutes down the road another security van is being robbed in broad daylight?
Intelligence-driven policing sounds nice in theory. Actual policing of our streets is what the victims of hate and other crimes demand and deserve.