Wednesday, 3 October 2012
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important issue. People have a right to live peacefully and not to live in fear or to be terrorised by other people in their neighbourhood. I am aware of one lovely, relatively new estate where three families are seeking to be rehoused elsewhere because of the unbearable behaviour towards them. Their cars are being damaged, their children are being both verbally attacked and threatened and people are walking on their back walls and looking in their windows. It is absolutely unacceptable behaviour, and no sector of society holds a monopoly on such behaviour.
This is strictly about people who misbehave when they are granted housing after being approved by a local authority. Regardless of one’s colour, class or creed, behaving in this fashion is unacceptable. This problem must be recognised and forcefully tackled. If legislative change is required for this to happen, so be it. These anti-social groups have no respect for either themselves or their communities. Local authority housing forms require one to get a peace commissioner to certify one’s income. There is also a section dealing with public order offences. This type of self assessment of an individual’s public order record is insufficient and Garda certification should be required. Many people, including young people, have been in regular contact with the Garda but do not have an official criminal record. Nevertheless, they are causing huge problems. Any statement from a garda indicating that the people would not make good neighbours should certainly be taken into account.
The spirit of social housing is that people who are allocated a house will fit into a community and not destroy the lives of the people around them. We recently considered a vetting Bill in this House dealing with employers who have vulnerable adults or children working for them. It is very welcome legislation. A local authority has valuable property on its books and the well-being of that property and the estate in general is at stake. Vetting of housing applicants must be an element in assessing their suitability for social housing. In these cases, one is always dealing with vulnerable people and children because these will be one’s neighbours. People who always shout about their rights must realise that they also have responsibilities and that the rights of their neighbours are equally important.
I am aware of another case where an extremely difficult family with a strong anti-social behaviour track record was housed in a quiet estate. The residents were completely hampered prior to the allocation and felt their local representatives were powerless to make their voices heard. They were right. The rights were all on the side of one family, above those of all the other families. Local authority executives are quick to cite legislation and the potential for litigation. Technically, they are correct but there appears to be little to support the families who know the trouble that is being foisted upon them. The law-abiding people approach their local elected representatives for help, but the representatives can do nothing about the process.
The process of allocating houses is closed. Perhaps we should consider establishing an assessment board for social housing in each local authority. It could incorporate local gardaí, public representatives and council executives. Garda vetting should be mandatory before allocations are made. We are all conscious of the right of people to a home, but we are over-emphasising their rights and underplaying their responsibilities to their communities and neighbours. We should also consider the imposition of financial penalties where anti-social behaviour occurs. If one does not treat the State’s property or one’s neighbour’s property properly, one should pay for the cost of the damage or it should be deducted from what one receives in benefits from the State.
We must also consider the possibility of imposing rigorous regulations whereby repeated anti-social behaviour means one simply forfeits the right to social housing. At present, the people who are causing the problems are remaining in the estates while their neighbours, who have done nothing wrong, feel they have no other option but to leave. Our obsession with doing the right thing has turned the morality of this situation on its head.