There is a wide range of legislation in place to enable the Garda Síochána to tackle public disorder and anti-social behaviour in all of its forms.
The Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 contains a range of provisions aimed at dealing with breaches of public order. These include:
- Threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour in a public place (section 6), which carries penalties, on summary conviction, of up to €1,000 or imprisonment for a term of up to 3 months or both.
- Failure to comply with a direction of a member of the Garda Síochána (section 8) to desist from certain conduct in a public place and leave the area, which can result in a fine of up to €1,000 or imprisonment for a term of up to 6 months or both.
- Riot (section 14), involving 12 or more persons who use or threaten to use unlawful violence for a common purpose, which carries penalties, on conviction on indictment, of an unlimited fine or imprisonment for a term of up to 10 years or both.
- Violent disorder (section 15), involving 3 or more persons, which on conviction on indictment carries a penalty of an unlimited fine or imprisonment for up to 10 years, or both.
- Assault or obstruction of a peace officer (section 19) (“peace officers” include members of the Garda Síochána, prison officers, members of the fire brigade, ambulance personnel and members of the Defence Forces), which on summary conviction can attract a fine of up to €5,000 or imprisonment for up to 12 months or both, or on conviction on indictment, an unlimited fine or imprisonment for up to 7 years or both.
The general law relating to non-fatal offences, which includes assaults on any person, is contained in the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act 1997, which deals comprehensively with a wide range of assault provisions, the more serious of which carry heavy penalties. These include causing serious harm (section 4), which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, and threatening to kill or cause serious harm (section 6), which carries a maximum sentence of ten years.
The Criminal Justice Act 2006 includes specially targeted provisions to address anti-social behaviour by adults and children. Part 11 of that Act makes provision for civil proceedings with regard to anti-social behaviour by adults while Part 13 makes provisions in relation to dealing with anti-social behaviour by children. For children, the possible interventions range from a warning from a member of the Garda Síochána, to a good behaviour contract involving the child and his or her parents or guardian, to referral to the Garda Juvenile Diversion Programme and finally to the making of a behaviour order by the Children Court. Where adults are concerned, the provisions include a warning and the making of a civil order by the court. Breach of a court order is a criminal offence.
Where anti-social behaviour is directed at property, the Gardaí have recourse to the provisions of the Criminal Damage Act 1991, which provides a range of offences and penalties, up to and including, on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years for the damage, threat of damage or possession of anything with intent to damage a person’s property.
The Deputy will also be aware that work is progressing as a priority in my Department on the Policing and Community Safety Bill, which will redefine policing to include prevention of harm to those who are vulnerable and place an obligation on relevant state agencies to cooperate with An Garda Síochána in relation to the broader issue of community safety. It will also provide for a new coherent governance and oversight framework to empower the Garda Commissioner to act as CEO supported and held to account by a non-executive Board, ensure strong internal governance and robust, transparent external oversight and effective accountability which will ultimately lead to a better run organisation and more effective policing.