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Youth organisation wants Asbos to be the ‘last resort’

THE country’s largest youth organisation yesterday called for the independent monitoring of new anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos).

Justice Minister Michael McDowell announced yesterday that the measures would come into effect next Monday for adults and on 1 March for children.

Youth Work Ireland (YWI) said there was concern that Asbos could be abused by some gardaí in disadvantaged areas.

"Asbos need to be monitored independently by an organisation such as the Human Rights Commission," said Michael McLoughlin, of YWI, which has campaigned about Asbos.

Mr McLoughlin said the Ombudsman for Children should have a leading role in the monitoring process, but was restricted under the law from receiving complaints against gardaí.

Both the Ombudsman for Children and the Human Rights Commission have criticised Asbos.

"Despite the fact that Asbos have been substantially watered down, we still believe many people are concerned about them and their impact on young people in particular," said Mr McLoughlin.

"Many young people unfortunately do not have faith in the gardaí in specific areas and Asbos could be used in an inappropriate way here and elsewhere."

He said Asbos represented a "dangerous blurring" of the criminal and civil law, allowing the authorities to potentially bring criminal proceedings against somebody who has not committed a criminal offence.

"There have been some welcome reforms of Asbos and they will have to be used as an absolute last resort. However, society needs independent reassurance that this is how they will be used, unlike in the UK where they have further alienated a substantial number of young people."

Speaking yesterday, Mr McDowell said a separate range of procedures applied in relation to young people.

The minister said these proposals were framed in the context of the "overall philosophy and policy" underpinning the Children Act and contained significant additional features to the civil orders for the over 18s.

These measures, to be published by Children’s Minister Brian Lenihan before 1 March, state that a number of steps have to be exhausted before an application is made to the courts.

These include a written warning procedure, a meeting involving parents and gardaí, a good behaviour contract and possible referral to a garda youth diversion programme.

If, at the end of this process, the relevant superintendent feels that there is still a risk of the child continuing the anti-social behaviour, he may apply to the Children Court for a behaviour order, Mr McDowell said.

If the order is breached, a criminal offence is committed. The penalties for this are a fine of up to €800 or detention at a children’s detention school for a period not exceeding three months, or both.