Deputy Quill was in possession. The Deputy has 29 minutes remaining and I understand it has been agreed she will share that time with Deputy Gregory.
Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 1996: Second Stage (Resumed).
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle
My party supports the Bill but there are a number of areas where we consider the drafting to be rather loose and in respect of which we will table amendments on Committee Stage with a view to making the Bill more enforceable.
It is vitally important that drug pushers are apprehended and brought before the courts. Drug pushers are serious criminals. They are merchants of death who must not be allowed to ply their evil trade in the future in the manner in which they have done in the past. They should be dealt with more rigorously in the criminal law system.
I appreciate the need for this kind of legislation which will ensure local authority houses are not used as a base by drug pushers. There is a sufficient body of law already in place to allow local authorities evict individual tenants, but it is seldom applied. It is unfortunate that local authorities have been slow to use that mechanism to evict anti-social tenants.
I am concerned that the effect of the Bill as currently drafted will be to move the problem from one area to another. If that were to happen, it would defeat the purpose of the Bill. There is an onus on all of us to close any loopholes we may detect in that respect on Committee Stage.
It would not make any sense if drug pushers who had been evicted from houses in public ownership ended up living in houses in private ownership. That would not solve the problem and it is not the intention of this legislation. It would not make sense either if people evicted from local authority houses under the exclusion order that is central to the Bill ended up homeless on the streets because the voluntary organisations would then have to respond. The problem would be solved at local authority level but another would be created in a different area. I hope that will not be the effect of the implementation of this legislation.
Parents of young children, who are trying to raise them in areas awash with drugs, are concerned that we as legislators use every procedure available to us to ensure drugs are not sold in their areas. They want to live in crime free communities.
I am concerned about the definition in the Bill of "anti-social behaviour". It will not be difficult to identify drug pushers — I hope we can always depend on the Garda in that respect — but it will be more difficult to clearly define the term "anti-social behaviour" in a way that will stand up to any challenge in the courts. That problem must be addressed in the context of the Bill because anti-social behaviour is not confined to people who peddle drugs. There are many forms of anti-social behaviour in local authority housing estates and the problem is getting worse. As Deputy Noel Ahern said this morning, in the past, poor families lived in neighbourhoods where older people were respected and children protected. That is no longer the case.
People come to my advice centres every week appealing for a transfer out of the area in which they live on the grounds that they cannot get a night's sleep or endure the noise emanating from neighbouring houses or apartments. That type of behaviour cannot be tolerated and the problem is a challenge for local authorities.
Historically, local authorities did not manage or maintain housing estates well. They can build houses, an activity often driven by the Construction Industry Federation, but they appear unable to make provision in their budgets for a proper estate management and maintenance plan. I appreciate the Minister is tackling that problem and putting more resources into estate management programmes.
Local authorities will have to draw up tenancy agreements that put an obligation on tenants to respect and consider their neighbours. That must form part of all tenancy agreements and if tenants breach those agreements they should be dealt with severely.
We must implement better estate management practices. We could learn a good deal from what has happened in Britain where a number of estate management programmes were introduced, some of which collapsed. We can improve oil the measures adopted in Britain and implement practices that would create an environment in which law abiding citizens could go about their business and get a night's sleep without gross interference from their neighbours. As landlords local authorities cannot claim great credit for the estate management practices they have implemented. They should be given responsibility for devising an ISO requirement for that purpose.
This Bill stemmed from the desperation of families as a result of a tidal wave of drug pushing and I hope it will deal with that problem. My party will table reasonable amendments to improve it. Our combined efforts should ensure that proper legislation is enacted to improve conditions for young and old people living in private and local authority housing estates. Tenants in private housing estates must also be subject to the law of the land.
I welcome the Bill for many reasons, but mainly because it has been introduced as a result of demands from some of our most disadvantaged communities. Some years ago people living in St. Joseph's Mansions in Killarney Street told me a network of criminals were getting involved in drug pushing and taking over their community. They were concerned that effective action was not being taken to deal with these criminals and wondered why Dublin Corporation could not evict them. That flat complex is currently semi-derelict with only one-third of its tenants still living there. While some of the drug dealers still live there, most of them have made their money and left. However, they have not gone to hostels for the homeless, they have bought private luxury houses or flats here or in Britain and the decent tenants have been left to live in dreadful conditions.
That community was taken over by drug dealers simply because effective laws were not in place to deal with them. The corporation had only limited powers to evict people and they were difficult to pursue in the courts. Action against some drug dealers who lived in that complex is still winding its tortuous way through the courts.
Because of the failure of the State to take action, the problems associated with heroin are entrenched mainly in local authority estates and flat complexes, not in private housing estates. I am pleased the Minister of State emphasised that evictions would take place only for activities of a serious nature. While having the necessary powers to evict people for drug dealing is not the solution to the drugs problem, it is an essential part of it. If effective action is not taken against drug dealers, whom the State is subsidising by providing them with houses, no strategy will be effective.
This Bill will act as a deterrent. Garda drug units have indicated on many occasions that drug dealers are concerned about losing their homes. Because effective action was not taken against those who used flat complexes to deal in drugs many people were sucked into the drug dealing network. However, when Dublin Corporation called for powers to evict people for such crime, many of those peripherally involved ceased to be involved. When this Bill is enacted its provisions will not have to be enforced in the manner in which some agencies suggest. It will be used in the case of serious drug dealers and act as a deterrent in the case of others.
Like the Criminal Assets Bureau and a number of other legislative measures, this Bill would probably not have been introduced if Veronica Guerin had not been murdered. It is an indictment of the system that many new legislative measures were not introduced until after that dreadful event. I do not want to dwell on that, but that is what galvanised Governments and agencies into action and forced them to bring in measures which they seemed reluctant to introduce. I argued in this House on numerous occasions for the Criminal Assets Bureau and everybody said it was a great idea, but nobody was prepared to set it up. Local authorities argued for years for this power in the Housing Bill, but nobody was prepared to grant it.
Once it became clear that the Government was prepared to do something about the matter a small lobby group, which has never represented the interests of tenants who are victims of harassment but has represented the interests of people whom the corporation attempted to evict for intimidation, tried to influence Government to water down this Bill to make it ineffective. Some weeks ago I attended an anti-drugs conference at which I said there was a possibility that a small lobby group which represents no-one might in the long run have greater influence on Government than disadvantaged communities. It was felt that the group put members of the Government under pressure to change the legislation, but I am glad that has not yet happened.
This Bill empowers disadvantaged communities. It gives power to decent people in communities to say there are certain activities that are unacceptable, such as drug dealing, intimidation and harassment of people who want to live in peace and make the most of their circumstances. The Bill is very important in that regard. The communities that suffer from drug dealing and those who represent them have won the battle in trying to get this legislation through.
Last week I visited a part of my constituency for which I have not been elected yet — it was included in my constituency in the change of boundaries. I refer to Gallanstown in Cherry Orchard, part of which has been taken over and is controlled by heroin dealers. The vast majority of people living there are decent people who despise drug dealing and criminality but live in fear of an entrenched group of criminal drug dealers. While I was there, at 9.30 a.m. last Friday, with corporation officials and other public representatives, taxis arrived with addicts who were desperate for heroin, but when they saw us they moved on. In that location there are 12 houses, built only six years ago, half of which are derelict and cannot be refurbished or occupied because of the terror waged by a handful of drug dealing criminals in the area.
It is extremely important that that huge estate in the Dublin 10 area is shown that the State is not powerless in dealing with those criminals. Whatever powers are required to deal with them should be made available to the local authority so that the decent people in the area can regain their community and bring their children to school without having to pass people on the footpath selling heroin. I have been known in recent times to criticise the Garda — I am not anti-Garda, I want them to do the work required of them by the people — but I visited the local Garda station in Ballyfermot this morning with a delegation of residents and I am glad that in recent weeks, perhaps belatedly, in that part of Dublin the gardaí have taken the issue seriously and are working with Dublin Corporation, the health board and the community in an organised effort to try to regain the area for the decent people who live there.
There is another important element in this Bill. I have attended meetings with gardaí who say that they want to give information to Dublin Corporation about individuals but do not feel they have the power to do so. This Bill gives such authority. We all agree that an integrated response is needed, involving the Garda, the corporation and so on, but in many instances they do not have the structures, framework or powers to deal with the problem. I welcome the important provision which allows for the exchange of information in the interests of the community to ensure drug dealers and such people are dealt with speedily.
I could not speak on any aspect of the drugs problem without paying tribute to community activists and organisations throughout the city which, in the past six or eight months, have taken a courageous stand against drug dealers. In my area in the centre of Dublin, the Inner City Organisation Network, ICON, is one of the organisations that has reclaimed the streets in the area from drug dealers. I pay tribute to those community activists who, out of commitment to their children and their communities, have organised to rid their areas of drug dealing. Active community organisations will see this legislation as vindication and support of what they are trying to do, as recognition by Government that the drugs problem will be dealt with only if everyone plays a part. They will see it as a very good example of the State empowering and working with communities to rid their areas of what is probably the greatest scourge of this century.
The allocation of £3 million for environmental improvements was mentioned this morning. During Question Time a Government spokesperson pointed out that the amount available to the local authorities for such work was in the region of £100,000, but said that £3 million is now being made available as part of the anti-drugs measures. Most people would say that will only scratch the surface of the problem given the large scale deprivation which underlies the heroin problem in Dublin. However, £3 million is much better than £100,000. I have seen details of the work Dublin Corporation intends to do with half of that money in some of its flat complexes, such as Mountain View Court in Summerhill. It will transform them. I hope when the Government sees the use to which this money is put, whether in inner city flat complexes or in areas such as Cherry Orchard and Gallanstown which have huge unemployment problems and lack amenities, it will increase the amount each year and make available the necessary resources. I welcome this initial injection of £3 million.
No one should refer to the drugs problem without dealing with its source. Although this Bill is welcome, it will not solve the heroin problem which is entrenched in local authority estates and in the most disadvantaged and deprived communities in Dublin. Cherry Orchard has a population of 5,500. There are approximately 1,000 children under the age of five in that community yet there is no school in the area. Its only amenity is a small community centre. Groups of committed local community activists are involved in a number of youth projects, some of which received State grants. Dublin Corporation has an action plan to introduce amenities in the area and it has also tried to get European funding to provide employment. The Eastern Health Board has plans to set up a nursery, but these are only plans on paper. This community has been in existence for 15 years or more without any amenities. Such deprivation leads to heroin problems and causes many people to be sucked into drug dealing networks who would not otherwise be involved.
Unless areas such as Cherry Orchard, the north and south inner cities and other deprived communities in Dublin are directly targeted with financial resources, this problem will continue. We constantly hear about the greatest economic boom since the foundation of the State. Yet that boom has had no impact on Cherry Orchard. I visited that community at 9.30 a.m. last Friday and there was no evidence that the benefits of the economic boom have reached it or that the Government has targeted it with a view to making the necessary resources available to deal with its problems. If we do not deal effectively with the heroin problem in Dublin, it will spiral out of control. Indeed, it is doing so already. I appeal to this Government and to whatever Government takes office after the general election to provide the resources to the communities in Dublin which desperately need them so that another generation of young people are not lost to heroin addiction.
I wish to share my time with Deputy Eamon Walsh.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I welcome the introduction of this Bill. Together with the Criminal Assets Bureau Act, it is probably the most valuable legislation to come before the House. It is a powerful new weapon in the armoury of the State and its agencies in the fight against the scourge of drug abuse and the effect it has on many disadvantaged and deprived communities.
I see the extent of the problem and how it has corroded life in the north inner city and in large sections of my constituency such as Gallanstown, Cherry Orchard, St. Michael's Estate, Summerhill, Sheriff Street, Seán McDermott Street and O'Devaney Gardens. We need a weapon to deal with this problem in the flat complexes and local authority housing estates. Dublin Corporation recommended the introduction of this legislation because it has been frustrated in trying to deal with serious anti-social behaviour caused by drug abuse. It is important that this legislation be put in place.
I will give an example of the level of frustration and the inability of existing measures to deal with the problem. The worst flat complex in Dublin, St. Joseph's Mansions, is in my constituency. It has running water but no bathroom facilities. The residents must wash themselves and their children in the kitchen sink or in a bath in the kitchen. Dublin Corporation attempted to refurbish that block of flats three years ago. It put in new windows and carried out a pilot scheme on the four corners which have blocks of four flats in each. The process came to a halt as the complex is over-run with drug pushers who have made life a misery for the tenants. It has remained untouched since then. The number of occupied flats has dwindled; approximately 70 flats are unoccupied.
With the assistance of the tenants and the Garda Síochána, the corporation has produced a package of proposals under which the complex will be refurbished when all the drug pushers have been evicted. Many have left but 14 still remain against whom the corporation has instituted proceedings. On 11 February, I received a letter from the corporation which states:
A number of court cases involving tenants in St. Joseph's Mansions were listed for hearing in the District Court on 24th January 1997 and 7th February 1997.
Unfortunately, one of the Dublin Corporation officials required to give evidence in all these cases was not available to attend Court due to serious illness.
The three cases listed for hearing on 24th January were adjourned to 14th February 1997. It will be necessary to adjourn these again.
The five cases listed for hearing on 7th February 1997 were adjourned to 2nd May 1997.
Dublin Corporation are currently awaiting court dates for four appeal cases.
A further two cases have yet to be listed for hearing in the District Court.
The process of issuing summonses and awaiting court hearings which may have to be adjourned and re-entered because of the non-availability of officials due to illness is time consuming and frustrating. Court decisions are also subject to appeal. The corporation is unable, as a result, to refurbish the complex for tenants.
If the provisions of section 8 under which cases will be fast-tracked through the courts prove effective, it will be a major victory in the fight against the drug pushers in local authority housing. If not, we will have to go back to the drawing board. They should be tightened, if necessary, to enable local authorities deal with the problem swiftly and effectively. The complex mentioned is located at the junction where a Christmas tree was erected as a beacon of hope in the north inner city for a future free of drugs.
I welcome the provision under which local authorities will have the right to exclude an individual or individuals from a local authority house or flat. Up to now the entire family was evicted because of the sins of a son or daughter.
I have received representations from organisations such as Threshold, the Merchant's Quay Project and the Franciscan Social Justice Initiative in which they voice their concerns about the legislation under which they believe people will be denied accommodation. It is essential, however, that local authorities have the right to refuse to sell or let accommodation to known drug pushers who are killing young people in our communities. No other word can be used. Heroin is a killer. In this context, we are obliged to adopt ruthless methods.
There are approximately 3,000 homeless people in Dublin. When suitable accommodation has been provided for these as well as for those living in inadequate housing, the question of providing accommodation for drug pushers might be considered. We have a responsibility to our communities and must not allow them to be poisoned. There is a need to take protective measures.
It is necessary to withdraw supplementary welfare allowance, payable by health boards, from tenants in private accommodation who are involved in peddling drugs. In Dublin many drug pushers have moved out of local authority housing into accommodation provided by the health board in new apartment blocks constructed under the urban renewal scheme because communities from Hardwicke Street to Sherriff Street have said they will not tolerate them. We must be careful not to create new ghettos in which they will find fruitful markets in areas they have not exploited before.
We must keep drug pushers on the move as this will make it easier for the Garda Síochána to deal with them. Many have moved out of the north inner city to the suburbs and further afield to England, the Netherlands and Spain while others have moved the short distance to O'Connell Street where it is easier for the Garda Síochána to monitor their activities. It is easier for drug pushers to peddle their trade within the confines of a flat complex than in places such as O'Connell Street. Therefore, we must not allow them to rest.
We must ensure that we put together a package of proposals in addition to this Bill to eliminate the black spots in the city because the problem arises in these areas. Resources and a proper programme of development and employment would go a long way toward eliminating the causes which allow drug pushing to proliferate throughout these deprived areas.
I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy McManus, on bringing forward this Bill. It will be an excellent vehicle to deal with the problems with which I deal every day in my clinics in Dublin South-West. She is to be congratulated on the detail in the Bill. She has listened for some time to representations on the matter.
It would be unfair to suggest, as Deputy Gregory did, that this Bill has only been brought forward as a result of the death of Veronica Guerin. I have made representations to the Minister for over three years on many of the issues in this Bill and some of them have been included.
I thank her for including the provision which deals with Eastern Health Board subsidies because there was a serious problem for a while in a private estate in Springfield, Tallaght, where a majority of houses were let to people receiving Eastern Health Board subsidies who were involved in anti-social behaviour, drug-dealing and drug-trafficking. I made strong representations to the Minister of State and she included a provision which allows the Eastern Health Board to withdraw these subsidies. That is an important element of the Bill which allows us to protect certain communities that have been plagued with this problem. It also stops the strange practice of people who have been involved in anti-social behaviour moving from a local authority house to one in a private estate with the help of a subsidy. It is time that message went out to such people and I appreciate the inclusion of that provision in the Bill.
Serious intimidation of people in housing estates is widespread throughout the city. It is mainly directed against women who are lone parents. We must look seriously at this problem. Many thugs will not act in this way if there is a man in the house. They will do so with people who are vulnerable, such as the elderly, particularly old women, who have no means of defence. They are continuously harassed by young thugs who stay outside their homes and destroy their lives to the point where many of them say it is not worth living any more, it is a hell on earth. That is not overstating the matter.
Handicapped children are targeted by these thugs, and not all of it has to do with drugs. Some of it is simply thuggery and it needs to be dealt with firmly. A handicapped child in my constituency is constantly taunted by such people.
Another person had all the windows in her house broken by rocks, not stones, and a tree was rammed through the front window. She was injured and taken away by ambulance. When the driver got in to drive off, the thugs got into the back of the ambulance and attacked her further while she was on the stretcher. These were only young thugs between the ages of 16 and 17 who live in a local authority estate and they had no fear. What should we do with those people? I say we should rid the estate of them. That woman will never be the same again. She was threatened at gun point recently. A shotgun was pointed at her forehead as she opened her front door. The same thugs organised it. All she had done was try to organise the youth of the area. I do not want to exaggerate the problem in one area but to highlight the magnitude of the problem which the Bill must address.
Many areas are worthy of compliment. In Brookview, Tallaght, which had many problems, the people organised themselves and a group, mainly consisting of women, have patrolled the estate every night for the past two years. They have eliminated all aspects of crime from their environment and removed many of these undesirables simply by patrolling every night, watching, observing and reporting to the Garda. Many other estates will have to take upon themselves the same type of activity in conjunction with the Garda.
I ask the Minister to implement the Bill as quickly as possible and to send out a message to people who are under serious threat in their communities that there is hope and something will be done. We can promise people that when they come to our clinics.
I welcome the general thrust of the Bill. It is, as Deputies on all sides said, an important part of our armoury to tackle some very serious social problems. So far nearly all of the Deputies who have spoken on this matter have been from Dublin and one could be forgiven for thinking that problems only exist in large housing estates in Dublin. I would not deny the fact that the most serious drug-related problems arise in large urban estates but there are similar problems, although not on as great a scale, in housing estates in every town.
Deputy Walsh referred to a woman who was repeatedly assaulted and threatened with a gun. Unfortunately, this happens not just in estates in Dublin but in estates in rural constituencies. We all have had experience at various times of where the elderly, in particular, have been singled out, intimidated and frightened on a constant basis by thugs between the ages of 13, 14 and 15.
Why is the problem not even being tackled at present? Fianna Fáil in Government with the Labour Party introduced the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act, 1994, which was regarded by Opposition Members who are now in Government as draconian, and we were criticised for doing so. We were told by the Garda at the time that they needed those powers to move people on, take drink away from them in public places and question them when they were found gathered together intimidating people or shouting abuse. It would be interesting to know the number of prosecutions which were brought under that Act. The only case I recall was one which was brought against Youth Defence because it received a certain notoriety. This legislation could be deemed draconian. People who support the Bill realise that if, when enacted, it was abused, it would cause serious problems. They accept the need for it, but realise problems could arise if some officials were over-diligent. Why was the Public Order Act not used in cases such as those cited by Deputy Walsh and in a case I learned of recently where an elderly tenant in a housing estate in my constituency was being consistently harassed by three or four young people? Are the gardaí using the Public Order Act and the armoury of other legislation available to them?
I welcome the thrust of the Bill which contains many positive measures that will help to alleviate problems experienced currently in housing estates throughout the country. It may be construed from my contribution that I question some of the provisions of the Bill. However, I generally welcome it although I have some criticisms and doubts about its constitutionality. If I had an hour to make my contribution, I could give a balanced presentation of my views, but in the short time available I wish to raise doubts and fears about it, particularly its constitutionality. I have studied the Bill in some detail. I hope it will not be construed from my contribution that I am being negative about the Minister of State's measure. We have one shot at introducing this legislation, if we do not get it right and the Bill is referred by the President to the Supreme Court or if it is challenged and brought through the courts when the first case is brought under it, it might be struck down and that would make matters worse. It is in that spirit I make my comments.
As Deputy Gregory and other Members who have greater experience than I in this area said, this legislation is urgently needed. The trampling by the rotten apples in the barrels on the rights of the many hundreds of local authority tenants throughout the country must be addressed. While the Bill may be popular and could be described as a populist measure, I want to ensure we do not go too far and end up with it being struck down and being back to square one. The popular opinion may be that this is a wonderful Bill which will solve all the problems in this area. However, as legislators, we have a duty to take a cold hard look at the legislation and make judgments on it. I may disagree with the Minister of State on some points and she may disagree with me on others. The legislation is a matter of judgment. When the Bill is passed by this House, it will not matter what the Minister or I think. It is what the courts what the Minister or I think. It is what the courts and the lawyers think that will count.
In the case of the ethics in public office Bill, the Minister indicated in good faith in reply to a question put to her that the provisions of the Bill would not apply to a particular item, but we were subsequently told by the Attorney General that it does. I am anxious to ensure that the Bill when passed will work, be effective and do the job we all want it to do. We must ensure it is constitutional and that it will not fall at the first hurdle. For the measures in the Bill, which are undoubtedly welcome in most cases, to be effective, they must be constitutional.
We realise that all legislation infringes somebody's rights. In passing legislation we try to balance the conflicting rights and individual rights with the common good. The validity of any legislative steps to balance those conflicting rights has been considered by the Supreme Court and other courts in many cases. The Supreme Court judgment on the TFv. Ireland, the Attorney General and MF 1995 which dealt with the constitutionality of the Judicial Separation and Family Law Reform Act, 1989, states that in a challenge to the constitutional validity of a statute in the enactment of which the Oireachtas has been engaged in balancing rights, the role of the courts was to determine from an objective stance whether the balance contained in the impugned legislation was so contrary to reason and fairness as to constitute an unjust attack on some person's constitutional rights. It also states that none of the personal rights of citizens was unlimited and that the decision of the Oireachtas on the reconciliation of the exercise of personal rights with the common good should prevail unless it was oppressive to some or all of the citizens or unless there was no reasonable proportion between the benefit which the legislation would confer on the citizens or on a substantial body of them and the interference with the personal rights of the citizens.
It is clear from the Supreme Court judgment that citizens do not enjoy unlimited rights. It is also clear that those rights are delimited by the Oireachtas. That limitation must not be unjust and must be in proportion to the object to be achieved. The issue is not what we consider is proportionate, it is what the courts will consider proportionate. I accept what the Minister of State said in that regard. The Bill must contain a stricter definition of anti-social behaviour. All the previous speakers agree that the problem of anti-social behaviour is drug-related. I accept the definition and explanation given by the Minister of State in that regard, but it is does not appear to be clearly set out in the Bill. The section defining anti-social behaviour and estate management should be reconsidered and tightened up. The definition in the Bill is non-exhaustive.
The Minister said it is not her intention that drug addicts should be treated in the same manner as drug dealers, but the Bill, as drafted, could be interpreted differently by the Supreme Court or other courts. It provides for the eviction of addicts and the loss of supplementary welfare allowance. We must ensure that is set out clearly in the Bill. The Minister of State did not hear the earlier part of my contribution, but I am sure her officials will tell her what I said about striking the right balance. She clearly set out her intention in her speech. I am referring specifically to how the courts might interpret the Bill.
Many drug addicts are victims. The current definition is so broad there is a danger they could be further victimised. Other Members referred to problems which could arise following the eviction of dealers and said it could lead to homelessness, etc. I suggest that the definitions be tightened to overcome possible problems in respect of legal challenges.
In section 1 (1) (b), the definition of anti-social behaviour includes other matters likely to cause offence to neighbours. That is acceptable if it is placed in the context referred to by the Minister of State, but I do not believe the definition is sufficiently clear. The section could inadvertently give local authority housing officials a general and unwanted policing role. The Bill should adhere to its intended remit in respect of drug related activities. I received legal advice which stated that the Bill does not focus sufficiently on drug related activities and its definitions are not clear. The definition relating to anti-social behaviour should be tightened.
The Minister of State referred to anti-social behaviour occurring in the vicinity of or adjacent to local authority housing estates. How will this be policed? The Bill does not provide any clues in this regard and I fail to see the practicality, need or appropriateness of this provision in respect of local authorities that have no jurisdiction in estates that are not under their control. Will the Minister of State clarify the position?
Section 3 deals with exclusion orders. In a welcome new approach, a tenant may apply for an exclusion order against an individual on the basis of anti-social behaviour. A local authority can do likewise on the grounds of anti-social behaviour and good estate management. It is not clear whether section 3 deals with drug dealers and drug related offences and the position should be clarified. The fact that a housing authority can seek an exclusion order on the basis of good estate management also introduces some uncertainty. Estate management includes the securing and promotion of tenants' interests. Who determines the criteria for "securing and promotion"? That definition is very general and an application for an exclusion order need not be concerned with drug related issues.
I welcome the Bill and hope it achieves its objectives. I have fears about various sections to which I referred and also section 4 and others. The Minister of State will receive full co-operation from this side of the House. We will table amendments to try to improve the Bill because we want to ensure, when enacted, the legislation will stand up to constitutional challenge and have the desired effect for communities experiencing these problems. I give the Minister of State categorical assurance that we will co-operate with her.
I welcome the opportunity to applaud my party colleague for presenting this Bill to the House. Drug addiction and lawlessness of frightening proportions have wreaked havoc on communities in the inner city.
I congratulate the Minister of State on introducing the Bill and listening to the views of those Members who work closely with constituents. I welcome the fact that we now have something to show to the brave community leaders in some of the housing estates and flat complexes to which other Members referred. These people should have thrown in the towel long before now but they continue to fight for the quality of life to which everyone is entitled. They have been fighting an uphill battle.
I have vivid memories of the Rathland Flats complex in Crumlin which stood for 35 years. By any standard, this was a fine, low density public housing scheme reminiscent of duplex accommodation. The estate was destroyed by the inability of Dublin Corporation to manage it and the fact that it was tenanted by a small minority of anti-social criminal elements. When these families were accommodated by the local authority in the complex, it rapidly went downhill. The criminal element demanded fees from those being placed in vacant flats by the local authority. If these were not paid, the flats were vandalised and toilet bowls and sink units were smashed. This resulted in Dublin Corporation relocating tenants and demolishing the site.
If this legislation had been enacted many years ago by Fianna Fáil, which was in power for extended periods, there would have been no need for Dublin Corporation to demolish N Block in Fatima Mansions. It is interesting to note that in certain cases the local authority, with Government sanction, has attempted to rebuild, refurbish and provide tenants with a satisfactory quality of life, to some degree. Some of these projects have been very successful and I compliment Dublin Corporation on the work carried out at Marrowbone Lane Flats. This is a shining example and should be copied by other local authorities.
However, there are other complexes where up to £6 million of taxpayers' money was invested. Without mentioning the site in question, a vast amount of the excellent work carried out has been undone and approximately 50 to 70 flats are vacant and have been boarded up. These places went downhill because of the inability of the landlords, in this case Dublin Corporation, to deal adequately with elements who engaged in anti-social and illegal behaviour, costing the taxpayer in excess of £6 million. We are left with the job of rebuilding a community there. It is against this backdrop that taxpayers ultimately pick up the tab in the absence of a strong landlord dealing in a fair and authoritative way with deviants who happen to be their tenants.
In introducing the Bill the Minister of State said that it will assist local authorities to discharge their estate management functions in a positive manner so that all local authority tenants may reasonably aspire to living in an estate that is free from drug dealing and associated violence. That is all we are looking for. We want to give every one of our tenants the right to coexist peacefully with their fellow tenants.
This Bill is but one element of a total package, a very successful programme, that has been put together during the short lifetime of this Government. It is worth reflecting on the achievements of the Government. It is the first Government to seriously tackle the issue of drugs. It is quite outrageous — it will not be long before the political historians begin to write the history books — that Fianna Fáil did nothing to tackle the heroin epidemic that has been festering since the mid 1980s. This Government has made £10 million available to the area partnership drugs task forces. The creation of these task forces and the funding of projects they designate are a phenomenal achievement, as is the increased funding which has been made available to the statutory and voluntary agencies, including the Eastern Health Board, Community Response, Merchants Quay Centres and other agencies that are tackling the drugs issue, and the most recent allocation of £3 million which is being matched by the local authorities, making it £6 million, to enable environmental improvement works to be carried out in flat complexes and housing estates that are afflicted by the drugs problem. This money will play an important role in enhancing the physical quality of these complexes and estates, and I applaud the Minister for working so hard and targeting those areas that are in such need of environmental improvement.
I also applaud the Government on the incredible strides it has made in tackling criminals at the upper end of the market and on the massive successes to date of the Criminal Assets Bureau of which everybody should be proud. I congratulate the new Garda Commissioner and his assistant, who has charge of policing in Dublin, on the relative success to date of Operation Dóchas.
This Bill is another element of an integrated approach to the drugs crisis in this city. It is important to applaud the Government for responding so positively to the frustration, anger and tragic loss of so many communities plagued by the problems of addiction. I do not applaud vigilantes. I applaud communities who, in hail, rain and snow, peacefully patrol their estates in an attempt to keep drug pushers out and protect the lives of their children. Everyone who marched was not a vigilante or a member of the provisional IRA. The majority of people who took to the streets around Dolphin House, Maryland in Cork Street and other areas were honest, decent citizens who were expressing their anger in the only way they could at being, to a large degree, betrayed by the establishment. Unfortunately their frustration and anger got some of them into trouble with the police. This would probably not have happened had this legislation been passed sooner. The frustration in these communities stems from the physical presence of thugs and gangsters in their areas who were clever enough to use the law for their own benefit when the local authority moved against them. Notwithstanding notices to quit or ejectment notices, they were able to hang on for at least 12 more months plying their trade in drugs. This legislation is important because it will empower landlords, in our case Dublin Corporation, to act affirmatively and quickly.
Tenants who are behaving in an anti-social manner will have choices. They will be quickly confronted with the choice of whether to behave themselves in a civilised manner or be evicted and possibly be homeless as a result. If they are to reform their behaviour, however, it is important that the other statutory agencies have treatment services in place to help them. If they are to comply with acceptable basic standards of behaviour, they will have to be encouraged, if they are on drugs, to give them up. With the developments that are taking place in local authority estates and with Dublin Corporation becoming involved in a more sophisticated way in estate management, there is greater bonding between community activists, the Garda Síochána and Dublin Corporation. This augurs well for the future of communities but not for those deviant tenants who wish to destroy the quality of life of other tenants.
There is another very important reason to support this Bill. There are no greenfield sites left within the city boundaries. Therefore, Dublin Corporation has to buy houses on the open market. Because of the bad public image of local authority tenants, there is understandable fear among people that if the corporation buys a house in their estate the tenant will be a drug dealer or pusher. This could not be further from the truth. The vast majority of local authority tenants, although not capable of purchasing their own house on the open market, are honest, decent citizens, and this Bill is aimed at the gurrier element that is giving them a bad name. When Dublin Corporation or other local authorities purchase houses in private housing estates it is important to be able to tell concerned neighbours that, with the passing of this legislation, they are more secure having a local authority tenant as a neighbour than somebody who buys the house privately, possibly with the proceeds of drug dealing.
An encouraging and important section of the Bill deals with the eviction of squatters. People can squat in a newly built corporation house for six months while the legal process to remove them takes effect. They can leave before the sheriff arrives and go to squat in another corporation house. Some people are playing cat and mouse with Dublin Corporation by moving from one house to another. The Bill empowers the Garda Síochána to move quickly against squatters.
The Bill will not solve all the problems. It may have a negative impact on the agencies that deal with homelessness. The eviction and banning of local authority tenants coupled with the restriction on the availability of rent supplements will impinge on these agencies. I am sympathetic to their case. However, the primary purpose of this Bill is to guarantee, as far as it can be guaranteed, local authority tenants, many of whom pay substantial rents, that they will be allowed to live in reasonable security.
After the enactment of this Bill, perhaps the Minister of State will establish a committee to monitor the requirements of agencies such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the Salvation Army and the Eastern Health Board which operate night shelters. There should be a mechanism in place to monitor the effect of the Bill's provisions on homelessness.
We are at one on this legislation. We want decent people who pay substantial rents to local authorities to be allowed to sleep peacefully at night and not be subject to intimidation by a small gurrier element.
I welcome this Bill which is designed to help local authorities deal effectively with problems caused by drug pushing and anti-social behaviour in their estates. The current legislation in this regard which is used by the local authorities is ineffective as far as the eviction process is concerned. More powers are needed.
A case was brought to my attention recently where a drug dealer was openly selling drugs from a local authority house. The parents in the vicinity were concerned and afraid. I reported the matter to the housing estate management section of the local authority several times. Unfortunately, no rapid action was taken and the drug dealer continued dealing. The law is not effective and it is difficult to explain that to civic minded parents who were doing their duty in bringing the matter to the attention of a public representative and were fearful for their own safety. I had to inform them that the matter had been reported but that nothing seemed to be have been done.
In Dublin Corporation only a handful of cases relating to drug pushing come before the courts. A report outlining the procedure for the eviction of known drug pushers was considered by the housing committee of the corporation at the end of 1995. It indicated that complaints were investigated by the housing estates section. This means that a complaint has to be made in the first place which points up a weakness right away. An investigation is then carried out in conjunction with Garda drug units. The report indicated that there were 33 cases under investigation at the end of 1995 but only four cases of drug dealing had been brought before the courts. I suggest that represents the tip of the iceberg. The procedure seems to have been ineffective. The report indicated that at the end of 1995 the corporation was awaiting court dates for six further cases and that the remaining 23 cases were at various stages of investigation. Even the investigation procedure seems ineffective.
Many people are unhappy about taking the first step of making a complaint about alleged drug pushing. I understand that evidence must be given in court in order to secure a conviction. It would be almost impossible to persuade people to give evidence in court in such a case. Will the Minister of State indicate if people are required to give evidence in court? Because of the nature of the cases this will present difficulties.
Public representatives in urban areas come across horrendous cases of intimidation. People or families who are well known in local authority estates can make life intolerable for their neighbours by engaging in constant intimidation. Hopefully, the Bill will tackle this problem.
I welcome the increasing involvement of communities in tackling the drug problem but I wonder if any action would have been taken if the communities had not demanded that something be done. As the Minister of State said, there is a need for communities to build trust with the statutory authorities, particularly the Garda Síochána. In some communities such trust does not exist. I agree with Deputy Eric Byrne that the vast majority of people associated with the community anti-drug movement are honest and decent — a fact of which the statutory authorities should take cognisance. Much work is needed to build up that trust.
People often find it hard to understand why the Garda Síochána does not pursue small-time drug pushers. People tell me the registration number of a car, van or motor cycle and the time it will arrive at a certain venue each evening. I pass on that information to the Garda Síochána but nothing happens. The unofficial reason is that the Garda is not interested in the small people but wants to get at the big people. I suspect that has changed under Operation Dóchas and, if so, it is welcome. Parents were infuriated that nothing was done about the small drug pusher on their street.
There has been much discussion on estate management. It took a long time for that concept to be accepted by local authorities, including Dublin Corporation which has brought forward the basis of an effective estate management system and has appointed 19 executive housing officers who will work closely with tenants and residents' associations, deal with all aspects of allocation, maintenance, cleansing and so on. That is a most important development. The aim should be cooperation, partnership and the utilisation of local knowledge. The people sitting at desks in the civic offices in Dublin Corporation are not aware of who is who or what is what. If the estate management system is to be effective, local knowledge, which can play an important part when it comes to allocations, will have to be fully utilised.
I have great hope for the future. A few years ago the concept of estate management was alien to bureaucrats who thought tenants' associations and communities were irritants and got in the way of their plans. I am grateful that has changed and the concept of estate management has firmly taken route.
There has been some discussion about the estate improvement programme which the Minister announced recently. We had a small hiccup in December 1996 when Dublin Corporation submitted a list of works, under the estate improvement programme, to the Department of the Environment costing over £5 million for which a grant of 50 per cent of the cost was sought. The Department indicated in February 1997 it will make available a sum of only £1.25 million but this will be matched by Dublin Corporation bringing the total to £2.5 million for the programme for the years 1997-8. Dublin Corporation drew up a list of 40 flat complexes in need of improvement which would have been financed out of the £5 million. Unfortunately the funding provided did not live up to expectations and only 14 flat complexes can be included in an estate improvement programme for 1997-8. Many of the flat complexes in Ballybough lost out. This demonstrates that much funding is needed to deal with estate improvement generally. The programme which provides for the lighting of stairways, removal of graffiti, environmental works, cleansing, redesign and so on is welcome. Money spent on these schemes can pay dividends later as flat complexes get older.
So far as Dublin Corporation is concerned, mistakes have been made in the past in relation to an allocations policy. Because of the insensitive nature of this policy and lack of thought in some parts of the city, ghettos have been created. This is not a reflection on the people who live in these areas. According to Deputy Ahern, large estates are not necessarily a problem but they have not helped in dealing with the drug problem and many problems of social exclusion associated with them.
The tendency to allocate flats, maisonettes and even houses in certain areas to lone parents exclusively was not thought through. The idea of a social mix was thrown out the window. I do not want to mention particular estates, several of which are in my constituency. In the past there had been a policy to allocate families of two to particular areas. That did not make for strong community leadership, a balance of interests or a balance in community life generally. It was a mistake and has finally been recognised as such.
The £5,000 new house grant scheme caused problems in some of the same estates, to which I have referred, in that many community leaders left and hence were not available to initiate programmes and community activity. We realise our mistakes and are attempting to deal with them.
The refurbishment programme financed by the Department of the Environment has been a success, particularly in Darndale and in Dublin 17, albeit a slow process. It has rescued community life in certain areas and has encouraged a sense of civic pride. The initiative is welcome and the more funding that can be provided for refurbishment the better.
Community spirit is important when dealing with drug pushing. There is a lack of community spirit, a breakdown in parish life and families in urban areas and the statutory authorities must try to retrieve that situation.
I pay tribute to the work of FÁS, particularly community employment schemes which are at the centre of community life. Many projects which would not normally have the finance required get under way and many voluntary organisations can utilise the community employment scheme. The invaluable work they do is obvious to anyone who witnesses the scheme in operation. I ask anybody who might try to reduce expenditure in that area to view the situation on the ground. Most active public representatives would be aware of that.
We have received submissions from the Franciscan Social Justice Initiative, the Merchants Quay Project and Threshold, all of which were alarmed and disturbed by the Bill. If we are to be successful we need to alleviate their concerns. It is obvious that a Bill such as this is required but the points they make should be addressed. Those involved in the Merchants Quay Project suggest that addicts need to engage in small scale drug dealing to feed their habit. This is alarming as the problem moves quickly from being one of drug user to drug pusher. All forms of drug pushing are wrong and there must be zero tolerance of this problem. I am interested in hearing the Minister's views on this point.
It also states that the level of proof in regard to anti-social behaviour is very low. This point is repeated in all the submissions I received. It is even suggested that in some cases proof is on the basis of hearsay. If this is the case it is unacceptable. Concern has also been expressed that the legislation will lead to an increase in homelessness. I welcome the Bill but if people working in disadvantaged areas believe certain provisions need to be reconsidered then we should listen to them.
I am glad it will no longer be necessary to evict all the members of a family. Some vigilante groups operating in the city — I am not referring to the community groups to which I alluded earlier — may wrongly blame innocent people who happen to be related to a drug pusher. Most reasonable people would agree that this is unacceptable and an entire family should not be tarnished because of one person.
On the exchange of information between State agencies, we are learning from our mistakes. The example given of the Eastern Health Board paying a rent supplement to a drug pusher who had been evicted by a local authority highlights this point. I welcome the provisions on the exchange of information between agencies.
Previous speakers referred to a possible constitutional challenge to the legislation. The editorial inThe Sunday Business Post on 16 February stated that the Bill may breach Article 40 of the Constitution. I disagree with many of the points made in that editorial. For example, it states that adequate powers are in place to deal with the problem but is obvious to those working on the ground that the laws dealing with anti-social behaviour are inadequate. I hope there is no constitutional challenge and that the legislation will be implemented as quickly as possible.
There are long delays in bringing cases involving the eviction of alleged offenders before the courts. People do not understand why it can take so long to deal with a problem, and one of the reasons for this is the delays in the courts. This is a major issue which must be addressed.
A large number of organisations have submitted detailed presentations in which they set out their objections to certain provisions of the Bill. I have received submissions from Threshold, the Merchants Quay Project and the Franciscan Social Justice Initiative. They believe that the severe sanctions in the Bill will further marginalise homeless people and lead to a significant increase in the demand for housing by the voluntary housing agencies. They also refer to the possibility of eviction cases being brought before the courts on the basis of inadequate proof and the refusal of health authorities to pay a rent supplement.
For the past decade I have been working on behalf of people in need of housing, while for the past five years I have predominantly represented people in local authority housing estates. It would be very informative for some of the authors of the submissions I received to visit certain parts of my constituency at night time to see at first hand the terrible lawlessness, vandalism, serious harassment and intimidation of some citizens. Drug related crimes account for a major part of this problem but they do not account for all of it. In many cases, families are harassed merely because the head of the household is a lone parent or is a member of a different race or because one of the children has a disability. A culture of intimidation can build up around such households.
The perpetrators are usually small in number and it is long past time action was taken to deal with them. The sanctions proposed in the Bill are necessary, even if they are severe. The authors of editorials in Sunday newspapers usually live in middle-class suburbs and they have no idea what it is like to live in areas where there is intense and terrible suffering. We have a responsibility to deal with this problem.
In some cases the number of ringleaders in drug feuds and crime is very small. For example, a deviant family or a family with a few dysfunctional members can wreak havoc on up to 1,000 families, while an area the size of Arklow can be badly affected by a few such families. Unlike the authors of some of the submissions I received, I do not expect the legislation to lead to a massive increase in homelessness. If the sanctions proposed in the Bill are used to deal with seriously deviant families many areas will be relieved of major problems. In many cases the threat of these sanctions will bring people to their senses.
The cases made in some of the submissions should be addressed. Some years ago, the Dublin Corporation housing welfare officer proposed that vigorous action be taken to deal with a number of anti-social individuals and families and that health boards and educational agencies concentrate their resources on measures to help them. He then proposed to rehouse them in a normal local authority setting. Competent local authority officials have given much thought to this. They have asked what can be done with grossly dysfunctional, anti-social people who cause intense suffering and hassle for their neighbours.
The Minister should be able to explore certain solutions with the better housing departments in our local authorities. As Deputy Haughey said, public representatives have also been queried as to whether the requirement of proof under this Bill will be small, thus swinging the pendulum too far against an anti-social householder. At present, the resources of the legal system weigh in the opposite direction. The housing department of Dublin Corporation tried over the years to evict people on anti-social grounds. It has evicted a number of families involved in drug pushing. However, the legal system operated in such a way as to make this task almost impossible. This Bill will redress the balance.
I very much welcome this Bill and congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy McManus, on bringing it forward. It is one of a number of measures, including the Children Bill, 1996 and the estate management programme, being brought forward as a response to a rapidly deteriorating situation. This legislation could have been passed ten, 15 or 20 years ago. It would have been appropriate in the mid 1980s but our predecessors blithely carried on and the concerns of urban areas were totally ignored and neglected. I say that as somebody who was a community worker and activist in the early to mid 1980s. Intense anti-social behaviour went virtually unpunished and very good people, including community leaders, were forced to leave their localities because of this grotesque behaviour.
In 1991 the Labour Party formed a coalition with Fine Gael, the Workers Party, the community group and the Green Party on Dublin City Council and drew up a civic charter with them. One of its demands was for estate management. The city was crying out for that. We visited various estates at night to attend party or community meetings. Our cars were wrecked, rocks were thrown at houses, people wearing balaclavas broke into houses but for some reason nobody seemed to take any action.
There are many associated problems in the city's estates which have contributed to the climate of crime which we must address. The most fundamental problem is the appalling design of many local authority estates. The architects of one or two important estates on the northside with huge populations should probably have spent five or ten years in jail so appallingly stupid and foolish were the designs. It is impossible for people to live in safety. There are no secure spaces. This happened in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. The late Deputy Neil Blaney sanctioned one of these schemes when he was Minister for Local Government. I met him when he visited the scheme and pointed out that the design of the estates was appalling. At long last we have learned from that.
Bureaucracy was centralised at local government level. I congratulate the Minister for the Environment and the Minister of State who have introduced their programme on better local government. It is under discussion at present by all local authorities. For the first time, the need for full time politicians at local level is addressed. It allows for aspiring politicians to have a full time career at local level which would give them control over what happens in their communities.
All aspects of housing were dealt with in Jervis Street in Dublin or in the civic offices but no resources were available in the estates. They were let go to rack and ruin over the years. There were other ancillary problems, such as massive unemployment. A number of Deputies mentioned the attempts of partnerships and other local bodies over the past ten or 12 years to deal with this. Massive industrial zones were designated on the northside of Dublin while estates with huge unemployment rates were built beside them.
In regard to drug related crime in local authority estates, a constant refrain heard at the recent Drugs in Dublin conference organised by Dublin Corporation was the fact that so many schools were able to expel students, particularly in junior classes at second level schools. Children were on the streets with nothing to do other than get into serious mischief and eventually serious crime. This area needs to be examined.
We have had poor policing in Dublin. It is only recently that the community Garda programme was introduced. Resources in Dublin were often stretched. Up to 70 per cent of gardaí are stationed outside the capital even though 70 per cent of all crime is committed there. It is ludicrous. The community gardaí programme, including Operation Dóchas, did not receive enough resources. In my constituency there are a few hundred gardaí trying to look after 80,000 people. This area needs to be examined.
A number of sections will improve the likelihood of processing evictions where serious deviant and anti-social behaviour takes place. There have been a number of such evictions over the past year. There are grave difficulties associated with this but Dublin Corporation, under its new city manager, operates a policy whereby complainants will not have to face the people about whom they complaint in court. This Bill strengthens that immeasurably and will be another important weapon in the corporation's armoury.
Anti-social behaviour, which is defined in section 1, is often displayed by a teenager or young adult in a family who, for whatever reason, is totally out of control and making matters extremely difficult for the rest of the family. They are often involved in drug related crime.
Section 3 is welcome in that it provides for the issuing of exclusion and interim orders. I welcome also the sections which provide for action to be taken against people who contravene such orders. In that respect the Bill provides some recourse for families suffering the effects of the anti-social behaviour of another member of the family.
Under section 14 the various State agencies will be required to provide the necessary information to the housing authority. That is a major weakness in the current legislation in regard to taking steps towards eviction. Housing authorities must have all relevant information from health boards, the Garda and the various voluntary bodies when making such decisions.
A key aspect of the Bill is the provision for putting in place an effective system of estate management. I thank the Minister of State for the efforts she has made over the past two years in encouraging local authorities to establish such a system. Dublin Corporation, under our new City Manager, John Fitzgerald, has finally put in place a system on various local authority estates around the city; approximately 40 now have their own manager and the larger estates have offices. In the past, householders were intimidated and parts of estates were used to sell drugs, but estate managers can now liaise with the Garda, the health boards and even public representatives to deal with such problems before resorting to the powers under this legislation, which should only be used as a last resort.
Estate management is in operation in Dublin and is working well. Estate management committees have been given the power to screen new tenants. It is appropriate that local estates, including the Kilmore estate in my constituency, know who is about to take up residency in their areas. Criminals or people with a history of anti-social behaviour should not be given local authority housing. The developments we have made towards a partnership on the ground are essential.
I welcome the sections dealing with the powers in relation to supplementary welfare allowances and rent supplements. Budgetary problems arose over the years with section 16 which deals with reductions in respect of housing authority rents. Money could be deducted for unemployment assistance but not for some of the social welfare payments. The Minister of State is to be congratulated on that.
The Bill is one of a large number of measures we must take to end the appalling anti-social behaviour and drug related crime which has made the lives of so many of our fellow citizens, particularly on the north side of Dublin, unbearable.
I seldom find myself in almost complete agreement with Deputy Broughan; I do not agree with his view on local communities vetting prospective tenants. I agree entirely with his comments on this measure and I congratulate the Minister of State on introducing it.
I am baffled as to the reason such a measure was not introduced a long time ago. The Labour Party has been in Government longer than my party in the past 25 years——
That is not true.
——so we all must take a share of the blame for the failure to initiate this legislation. This is the first time Democratic Left has been in Government, and it is seldom I find myself congratulating its members on their policy positions, but I must on this occasion. The Minister is brave to introduce the legislation in the circumstances.
The previous speaker gave a good analysis of some of the submissions made to us by those who have reservations about this measure. I understand those reservations, but anybody who spends more than 30 minutes in a local authority housing estate will know the views of the residents who live in these areas and the terrible traumas they endure, so well described by Deputy Broughan. We must address that problem and enable people to build their own communities in those districts. We cannot do that without using the big stick as well as the carrot. I assume that is the purpose of this measure although I know the Minister of State is interested in providing the carrot, particularly in this election year.
The Minister will not want to be remembered for introducing a big stick measure but it was necessary. There were deficiencies in the existing arrangements and the Bill attempts to address them. Any Bill of this type must be scrutinised with great care because, as legislators, we must draw a balance between the social interests that exist in addressing the drugs problem and the long-standing problem of nuisance created by tenants in local authority estates and other tenants who do not have the means to take a law suit to deal with it. Those tenants looked to the local authorities to deal with this problem but they were unable to do so for many years.
This measure is part of the response to the drugs problem. Last summer we saw local communities taking their own initiatives to exclude persons from their areas. It happened most noticeably in the north inner city, in west Tallaght and, to a more muted extent, in Clondalkin. Those communities were desperate because drug dealers were openly selling drugs in their districts and acting as the pillars of a drugs culture. Decent, law abiding people in those districts were unable to deal with these people. They were fearful for the safety of their families and concerned about the lack of moral example.
This was a difficult measure to draft. I asked the Taoiseach about it on the Order of Business on one or two occasions and he told me it would be brought forward at the beginning of the parliamentary term last September. That has not been possible but the reason was obvious on reading the Bill. It is difficult to draw a balance. The main objective of the Bill is to deal with the problem of drug pushing but it is clear that there was also abuse of the rent allowance scheme and mortgage interest supplement. Perhaps the Minister might indicate where the end lies in that regard. If a person is evicted from a local authority house and, as the Bill provides, is refused rent allowance by the health board, where does the person go? How does that square with the right of the homeless enshrined in earlier legislation? There appears to be a contradiction between this and previous legislation dealing with the rights of the homeless. While I do not wish to strike too close to the bone on this matter, the Minister must address this practical problem.
The social pattern of life in this city has become well established in recent years. As a result of voluntary action by local communities, many drug pushers and suppliers have been excluded from local authority estates. Some of them have resettled in private houses and receive rent allowance and, in extreme cases, mortgage interest supplement from the State. If they are deprived of that benefit where will they go? This is a difficult question for the Minister to address.
Section 2 deals with the service of summonses. I have some reservations about the way section 2 (1) (a) has been formulated in regard to a substituted service of a summons. This is essentially a matter for the courts. Provision is made in the Rules of Court and most well drawn up legal enactments to allow a court to permit substituted service in an appropriate case. I am not sure it is appropriate for the Legislature to determine what is appropriate for substituted service. This subsection appears to prescribe the circumstances in which a substituted service by ordinary post, instead of by registered post, would be appropriate. The circumstances in which service is effected are best left to the courts. Would a more general provision simply enabling a court to direct substituted service be more appropriate in that subsection? I am not sure it needs to be drafted with such prolixity. Will the Minister address this matter on Committee Stage?
The heart of the legislation is contained in section 3 which provides for exclusion orders. While there is a major difference, an analogy has been drawn here with matrimonial barring orders. When a person applies for a barring order he or she wants the other party out of the family home. In this case there is no assurance that any party wants to leave the family home. The language of section 3 was also borrowed from the legislation dealing with barring orders in that the court must believe reasonable grounds exist for believing a person has engaged in anti-social behaviour. That is a reasonable criterion.
I have some reservations also about section 4(3) which provides that an interim excluding order may be madeex parte. There may be extreme cases where it would be necessary to apply for an interim excluding order, but should this be done on an ex parte basis? Under section 4(3) a local authority can apply for an interim order and remove a person from a local authority house without notifying the person concerned. While it could be argued that the courts will prevent abuse of the powers conferred on local authorities, this is a far reaching requirement. Even the Almighty gave Adam and Eve a hearing before excluding them from the Garden of Eden. Is it wise to provide in legislation for the exclusion of a person ex parte? The sections dealing with the effect of orders, the effect of appeal from order and the discharge of orders are necessary in this legislation.
Under section 11 proceedings may be heard otherwise than in public, a topical subject at present. The general constitutional presumption is that citizens should know what is being transacted in their name in the courts of justice. I did not hear the Minister of State justifying why a court should be allowed to hear these proceedings in private. While it may be necessary to hear sensitive cases involving family or matrimonial matters in private, when relaxing evidential standards it is important that matters are dealt with in public so that it can have confidence in the system. Private justice can often lead to a loss of confidence in the administration of justice. I am sure the Minister of State, like all other Members, receives a large number of representations from persons who have been aggrieved as a result of matrimonial proceedings. It is often difficult to reassure people in this regard because, for obvious reasons, matrimonial proceedings are transacted in private. However, if proceedings are administered in private under this legislation, will the public gradually develop a lack of confidence in the system? Will the Minister reconsider her decision to allow judges to hear proceedings otherwise than in public?
Section 13 deals with the letting and sale of local authority houses when drug suppliers are excluded from them. In exercising its powers under this legislation, a local authority can refuse to let a house to a person who is engaged in anti-social behaviour. Does an actual court order or finding have to be made before that subsection comes into play or are local authorities given complete discretion in this matter? Can they claim they consider a person has been or is engaged in anti-social behaviour? We should question if a local authority should be given power to do that without even a right of appeal. While I understand the administrative sense in allowing local authorities to make an initial determination in such a matter, as we are depriving a person of the right to participate in social housing, the person affected must have some form of inexpensive redress, other than High Court proceedings, by way of judicial review.
The same provision extends to tenant purchase dwellings. Subsection (3) states that the housing authority may refuse to consent to the sale of a dwelling on the basis of anti-social behaviour. I fail to understand the thinking behind this. A tenant purchaser should be entitled to an equity of redemption. I do not understand the legal basis under which a local authority can refuse to let a tenant purchaser pay off a mortgage and sell the house. I fail to understand why we are still referring to the possibility of providing for this in legislation when it is technically not possible. Once one becomes a tenant purchaser, one has a mortgage and an equity of redemption. Will the Minister address that matter in her reply?
I welcome the provision dealing with the exchange of information between various authorities. Section 15 deals with the supplementary welfare allowance procedures that will be inserted in the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act, 1993. It also deals with the abuse of supplementary welfare allowance by way of rent or mortgage interest. I assume the normal procedures under the Social Welfare Act will apply in the case of a dispute.
There has been a good deal of discussion about evidence to prove that a person has been or is engaged in anti-social behaviour. The Offences Against the State Act, 1972 included a provision dealing with unlawful membership of an illegal organisation and in the case of a prosecution a Garda officer above a certain rank was entitled to give an opinion as to whether a person was a member of an illegal organisation. Under this legislation designated officers have also been given the power to say if they believe a person is engaging or has engaged in anti-social behaviour.
This section addresses a serious problem. I have received countless representations down the years from people living in local authority estates who were in great fear of giving testimony in proceedings. Perhaps the Minister will consider whether the section should be restricted to members of the Garda Síochána who are more familiar with the procedure of giving evidence in the courts than are, for example, health board officers. The gardaí are used to giving evidence and are perhaps better aware of the nuances of imparting information to a court. A court applying the section will be very scrupulous in inquiring into the basis for the belief asserted by the officer giving evidence. I do not share the concern expressed by some Members about the section because those who express an opinion may be cross-examined about their beliefs. Under the section certain opinions will be admissible as evidence, but the courts will not be compelled to consider such evidence.
The measure also deals with more general misbehaviour, which is defined in subsection (1) as any behaviour which causes or is likely to cause any significant or persistent danger, injury, damage, loss or fear to any person living or residing in the vincinity. I wonder if that definition is too complicated. What we are talking about is nuisance. For those living in private houses, under civil law if one's neighbour is guilty of behaviour which amounts to a nuisance, that person may be sued. The same principle applies in local authority estates, but persons residing in local authority estates generally do not have the wherewithal to bring private law actions against neighbours who are guilty of persistent misbehaviour, a problem that has become very extensive in some local authority estates.
Surely the solution is to provide for nuisance as the grounds upon which the courts may exercise power under this measure. Is it necessary to use all the words included in section 1 (1) (b)? In that subsection we are setting different standards for residents of local authority estates from those for residents of private estates. The standard of goods neighbourliness should be the same regardless of whether one lives in a private or a local authority estate. For those living in local authority estates there is an expeditious, inexpensive procedure whereby the local authority, as landlord, may enforce the law.
This is a very interesting measure and I would like to have more time to discuss estate management. Estate management is a positive idea which has been referred to on many occasions since the plan for social housing was introduced by Mr. Flynn when Minister for the Environment. Good estate management is about community building in local authority estates, and that philosophy must be applied.
A number of decisions of recent years, for example, the surrender grant and, to a lesser extent, the shared mortgage arrangements, desirable as they are, have tended to strip local authority estates of natural community leadership. That is a problem that must be addressed. We must encourage local co-operative arrangements in regard to environmental improvements. We must consider international experiments where in some cases local authorities assign their rents to private contractors who provide the services in communities and we must provide funding for those purposes, but our philosophy should be guided by the principle of building up communities with locally based community leadership. Many problems have developed in the greater Dublin area as a result of lack of such leadership. We have all made mistakes in this area in the last few decades. We should review our policies to see whether they tend towards that end.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute on behalf of the Green Party to the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. The Bill addresses a serious oversight in legislation on local authority housing which allowed people to engage in anti-social behaviour. It was brought about mainly as a result of the drugs epidemic, particularly drug dealings, and I take this opportunity to compliment the gardaí who last night made a significant drugs seizure in Dublin North. We all wish for success in that regard. All of us have experience in our constituencies of drug-related problems and it is difficult to generalise the legislation because every case is different.
I welcome the Bill. It allows local authorities to exclude a certain member or members of a household from inquiries in the event that one member is pushing drugs or is acting in an anti-social way. The withdrawal of supplementary welfare assistance in these cases is welcome, as is the provision that a court must decide, on a reasonable grounds, what is a valid case. Local authorities have power under the Bill to turn down applicants who they believe have engaged in anti-social behaviour and who do not act in the interests of good estate management.
The definition of good estate management must be significantly tightened because at present it is open to interpretation. While estate management courses are generally welcomed, will people be at a disadvantage by not taking part in such courses and will addicts be penalised more than pushers? Generally drug pushers appear compliant and socially amiable while addicts, who tend to appear dysfunctional, may present problems in terms of estate management. The difficulties experienced by addicts in getting treatment must be addressed. I am aware that is not within the remit of this Bill but it is vital the disadvantaged are not made more disadvantaged by ignoring the need for treatment for addicts.
Greater emphasis should be placed on an appeals structure. A person whose application is turned down should have recourse to appeal. It is unacceptable that a local authority should issue a letter to a person without giving the reason for a decision. The matter should be dealt with properly.