Tuesday 21 August 2007

O'Keeffe to 'ramp-up' action against anti-social behaviour

Mr. Batt O'Keeffe, T.D., Minister for Housing, Urban Renewal and Developing Areas, has pledged to ramp-up action against anti-social behaviour in local authority housing estates.

"Stronger powers and more resources will be key to ensuring that local authorities can respond - not only to the symptoms, but also to the causes of such behaviour" - the Minister said. "Anti-social behaviour disrupts the lives of householders and has the potential to destabilise communities" - he continued.

"Local authorities - as landlords of some 110,000 dwellings - have a duty to secure and protect the interests of their tenants as far as reasonably possible, by abating or preventing anti-social behaviour in their estates."

Action against the symptoms - stronger laws
The Minister aims to tackle the symptoms of anti-social behaviour in local authority estates by advancing strong, new legislation as quickly as possible.

The planned legislation will provide a more powerful and comprehensive legal framework within which local authorities and approved housing bodies can operate, promote a more expansive, pro-active and integrated response by local authorities and voluntary and co-operative housing bodies to the problem and improve liaison between local authorities, housing bodies and the Gardaí in dealing with individuals behaving in an anti-social manner in social housing estates.

Building on the existing powers of local authorities to apply to the District Court for an order to exclude a person engaging in anti-social behaviour from a local authority dwelling and estate, the proposed legislation will include provision for -

* A broader definition of what constitutes anti-social behaviour, in line with the definition included in the Criminal Justice Act 2006;
* Adoption by the local elected members of a policy to combat anti-social behaviour;
* A tiered approach to dealing with individual cases - culminating, if necessary, in an excluding order application.

Action against the causes - projects worth €8 million on the way
The Minister is determined not only to deal with the symptoms of anti-social behaviour, but also to engage with the causes. "We need to tackle a range of issues if we are to eliminate anti-social behaviour" - the Minister said. "All our State Agencies need to dovetail their activities to deliver a holistic approach to improving the day-to-day lives of persons who may find themselves marginalised. Local authorities can play a key role in tackling aspects of social exclusion, improving community morale and delivering better housing services.

"For this reason" - added the Minister - "my Department has significantly increased funding this year to support the efforts of housing authorities to enhance services and living conditions in local authority estates. This is on top of funding under the Housing Management Initiative, which has operated successfully for many years."

The new Sustainable Communities Fund was introduced this year to enable local authorities take further initiatives to improve quality of life in their housing estates and to ensure that these estates integrate successfully into the wider community. The Department has sought innovative proposals from local authorities under the Fund which aim to deliver real and lasting benefits in terms of residents' experiences of their living environments.

The Minister indicated that consideration of the individual proposals under the scheme is being finalised. He looks forward to announcing allocations under the fund in the near future, which will provide finance to projects around the country worth at least €8 million over the next three years.

The Minister will also be making funds in excess of €1 million available to local authorities later this year under the Housing Management Initiative. This Initiative has, since 1995, provided some €6.25 million to local authorities in support of about 470 projects around the country, which aim to deliver better housing services to local authority tenants.

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