Anti-Social Behaviour Deterrents.

On a sad note, the young garda who was hit by a car in Donegal earlier this month died this evening. This is an awful blow for everyone concerned. The man had very close connections with my area. While I realise it may not be in order to do so, I extend my sympathy to the Garda force and to all the family and friends of the young garda.

I want to raise the issue of the Mosquito device, which in some respects is as much a matter for the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform as it is for the Department of Health and Children. Therefore, the matter does not come directly within the brief of the Minister of State, Deputy Kelleher. Nevertheless, I am glad he is present to address the matter.

The Mosquito device is a device that emits a high-frequency, high-pitched sound which, unfortunately, none of us in this room will ever hear because our hearing has deteriorated to such an extent that we can no longer hear sounds at such a pitch. We are born with an ability to hear at a certain frequency but, as we age, this frequency changes.

The difficulty at present is that the device is being used to stop anti-social behaviour. Many shops are using the device to try to stop children from congregating, usually at the shop front. A county council, for example, could use the device to prevent youths from congregating. This is especially the case in England.

At a recent Council of Europe committee meeting in Molina in Spain, I was asked to raise this issue with European Youth Forum representatives and the policymakers from the Directorate of Youth and Sport. There was complete agreement that this is a human rights issue. It is assumed by those installing the devices in their premises that all youth are up to no good. It sends out a strong message that youths cannot congregate. The device is perceived to oppose the right of young people to free movement.

It goes beyond that. From the age of 20 upwards, one is unlikely to hear the sound emitted by the device, but it can be heard by some between 20 and 30. After 30, one definitely cannot hear it. Therefore, adults are installing it to terrorise children. However, the adults installing it cannot hear it themselves. They do not know what they are inflicting on the youths.

It seems that in some places where it is operated, and it has been operated in my constituency and other places throughout Ireland, people have refused to enter the shops. I know of a case in England where people withdrew from the only shop in a village which was using this device. Parents were told by teenagers that they developed pains in their ears when they were near the shop. The parents refused to use the shop and withdrew their custom. Very quickly, the shop withdrew the Mosquito device and replaced it with what Senator Quinn laughingly suggested he used when he had a chain of supermarkets, namely, classical music. This served the same purpose. People did not tend to congregate and yet it was not an overt attack on the children's senses.

The Minister of State, Deputy Kelleher, may have a few children under six. Older children can articulate there is a problem but until they can speak in sentences, children will not be able to explain that they are hearing an awful sound. If one lets go a child's hand to pay for what one is purchasing or examine what one wants to buy, the child can disappear because the goal of the Mosquito device is to stop children from being there. A toddler will try to get away from the sound as soon as one frees him or her. He or she does not have the capacity to articulate what is the problem and a parent over the age of 30 will not hear it and will not know there is a problem. A question mark is raised as to whether it is a problem for the unborn child, the foetus in the womb, in terms of whether it can hear or whether the umbilical fluid prevents it.

There are other ways to deal with this. In England, where children were congregating at an underpass the local council installed a pink light which showed up acne. It was a different approach to this problem but was very effective. There are imaginative solutions that do not necessarily impact as cruelly or dangerously or in a way which violates human rights.

I am concerned that other countries used a variation of this with a different frequency which could be heard by everyone and did not discriminate. It was used as a form of torture. If we do not stop and act now to prohibit or regulate this it is only a matter of time before the right of people to congregate and the right to free speech could be impacted by people introducing variations of the Mosquito device.

The Council of Europe is compiling a report and the vice-chair of the committee is responsible for it. A questionnaire was circulated to the Minister for his response. We have not responded and many other countries have. Being in the position I am in, I ask that we respond officially. Since I raised this issue through the media I have received staunch supporting legal and other advice from various youth sector representatives throughout the country at national and local level.

I wish to express my sympathies to the family of Garda McCallion and the Garda Síochána on the very tragic news of his passing. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform apologises as he is unable to be present. The Minister is informed by the Garda authorities that they are aware of the device referred to by Senator Keaveney. It is designed to deter people from congregating or loitering in certain areas by generating a near ultrasonic tone which, it is claimed, does not cause physical damage or pain but becomes highly annoying. It is claimed that because of natural age related hearing loss, the majority of those over the age of 30 only just hear or are aware of the noise.

Section 2 of the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act 1997 creates the offence of assault, which is committed by the application of force. The section specifies that "force" includes application of,inter alia, noise. The Minister is informed by the Garda authorities that an instruction has issued to all members of the Garda Síochána that any complaints received regarding the use of such devices are to be the subject of investigation and an investigation file submitted to the law officers for directions as to what charges, if any, are to be preferred.

The Minster and the Garda Síochána are aware of the damage and distress which anti-social behaviour causes communities. The Garda policing plan for 2009 reflects the priorities set for the force by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, one of which is to preserve peace and public order in co-operation with local communities, in particular by targeting disorder arising from binge drinking. It contains a series of measures aimed at reducing the impact of crime and criminal behaviour, and one of the strategic goals identified in the plan is to reduce significantly the incidence of public disorder and anti-social behaviour in communities.

Strong provisions are already in place to combat anti-social behaviour. The Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 modernised the law in this regard. In addition, the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003 contains provisions to deal with alcohol abuse, which is often at the root of crime and anti-social behaviour, and its effect on public order, and the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 2003 provides the Garda with powers to deal with late-night street violence and anti-social conduct attributable to excessive drinking. The Criminal Justice Act 2006 brought into force additional legislation to target public disorder and anti-social behaviour. In January 2007 behaviour warnings and civil orders were introduced for adults, and in March 2007 behaviour warnings, good behaviour contracts and behaviour orders were introduced for children.

The Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008 gives further powers to the Garda to tackle the misuse of alcohol. The Act places restrictions on the availability and visibility of alcohol and provides for more effective enforcement to deal with the consequences of alcohol abuse. Gardaí may seize any bottle or container from a person under the age of 18 and which a garda suspects contains alcohol to be consumed by a person under 18 in a public place. They may also seize bottles or containers containing alcohol where there is a reasonable apprehension of public disorder or damage to property and require a person to leave the place concerned in a peaceable and orderly manner. The Act also allows for the issue of fixed charge notices for the offences of intoxication in a public place and disorderly conduct in a public place, which are offences under sections 4 and 5 of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994.

The Irish youth justice service is an executive office of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and works with the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. It is responsible for leading and driving reform in the youth justice area. In addition, it funds organisations and projects providing services, including Garda and probation service projects, to young people aged under 18 years who find themselves in conflict with the law.

The Garda juvenile diversion programme, operated by Garda juvenile liaison officers, has proved to be highly successful in diverting young persons away from crime by offering guidance and support to juveniles and their families. It also enables referral to the Garda youth diversion projects which are funded by the youth justice service and are community-based, multi-agency crime prevention initiatives operating separately from the diversion programme. At present, 100 of these projects operate in various locations throughout the country.

I assure the House that the Minister and the Garda authorities will continue to attach the highest priority to tackling anti-social behaviour, and the legislative provisions dealing with anti-social behaviour are kept under continuing review by the Department. I will express the views expressed by the Senator on the ultrasonic high-pitched noise equipment.

I thank the Minister of State. The answer — which I accept came from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform — concentrated on the need to explore alternative methods that can be deployed to target anti-social behaviour. However, I have a report which is specific and is asking whether we are looking at the human rights violations posed by use of the Mosquito device, and at the need for the regulation or prohibition of that device. I would be happy to get a written response, but I ask that the Minister of State bring it to the Department's attention that I feel the first part of the question was not answered at all.

The reply might have been a synopsis of what the Senator would have liked to have heard. The Minister has been informed by the Garda authorities that the instruction has been given to all members of the force that any complaint received about the use of such devices is to be the subject of investigation, and an investigation file submitted to the law officers for directions on what charges, if any, are to be preferred. There has been an acknowledgment that if there is a complaint, it must be investigated.

I would like to be associated with the vote of sympathy to that young garda from Donegal, his family and to the Garda Síochána.

The Seanad adjourned at 6.10 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 8 April 2009.