Dáil Éireann - Volume 608 - 20 October, 2005
Written Answers - Homeless Persons.
Mr. Eamon Ryan Mr. Eamon Ryan
52. Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a report (details supplied), commissioned by his Department,  finds that a large number of persons surveyed as part of this study had been imprisoned for offences linked directly to the fact that they were homeless and that the introduction of anti-social behaviour orders is likely to exacerbate this situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29739/05]
Mr. Eamon Ryan Mr. Eamon Ryan
64. Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he has read the report (details supplied) recently produced by the CSER and DIT; if he will implement any of the recommendations arising from the report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29738/05]
Mr. McDowell Mr. McDowell
Mr. McDowell: I propose to take Questions Nos. 52 and 64 together.
The issues faced by offenders that are homeless or at risk of homelessness, both in the community and in custody, have long been recognised. These issues have been the focus of increased consideration in recent years, particularly in the context of the Government’s integrated strategy on homelessness, 2000, and following the publication of the Homeless Preventative Strategy, 2002, and NESF Report No. 22 of 2002 on the reintegration of prisoners.
The probation and welfare service, with the approval of my Department, commissioned the Centre for Social and Educational Research, CSER, at Dublin Institute of Technology, DIT, to carry out research on the number, profile and progression routes of homeless persons before the courts and in custody. The research, carried out in the Dublin area in 2003 and 2004, was published in July 2005. Among the findings were the facts that 1.6% of the persons sampled attending before the courts were homeless and that, on average, they had a higher number of charges against them.
Among the most common charges were the charges of being intoxicated in a public place — 30%; threatening, abusive, insulting behaviour in a public place — 24%; and theft — 21%. Only approximately one fifth of the cases resulted in imprisonment. The recommendations contained in the report are under consideration in my Department at present.
In recent years, there has been considerable development of services for offenders who are either homeless or at risk of homelessness, both in the community and on release from custody. These include: the establishment of the homeless offenders strategy team, HOST, a probation and welfare service led multi-agency initiative to address homelessness among offenders — it is a direct outcome of the Government’s homelessness strategy and it is working to progress a number of initiatives to reduce homelessness  among offenders, both in custody and in the community; the acceptance by local authorities of applications for social housing from prisoners up to nine months prior to their expected release date; procedures to ensure retention of prisoners’ social housing tenancies in so far as possible; the probation and welfare service, Irish Prison Service and other agencies working with prisoners provide a range of opportunities, on both an individual and group programme basis, for prisoners to assist them to prepare for their release and their successful re-integration back into the community — their accommodation needs are addressed in this forum; enhanced in-reach services by community welfare, housing and other social services to prisoners nearing release, particularly those who are at risk of homelessness on release. In addition to these in-reach services, the access housing unit of the Threshold organisation, in partnership with the probation and welfare service and the Irish Prison Service, is sourcing private rented accommodation for suitable prisoners in Dublin on a pilot basis.
I reject the view that the introduction of anti-social behaviour orders is likely to exacerbate the situation regarding homeless people. An anti-social behaviour order is simply a mechanism whereby the law seeks to stop a person from behaving in a way which is causing very serious distress to a community or to some person in that community. In this respect the principle behind anti-social behaviour orders is similar to the power to bind over, which is a very old power.
I am currently finalising legislative proposals to provide for such orders. I expect, subject to Government approval, to introduce these proposals as Committee Stage amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill 2004, which is currently awaiting completion of Second Stage in the Dáil.
My amendments will allow the Garda to apply to the courts by way of civil procedure for an anti-social behaviour order which will prohibit the person who is the subject of the order from behaving in an anti-social way. My proposals will include guidelines for the courts relating to the granting of orders. The orders will be civil orders and the question of an offence will arise only if the person in question wilfully defies the order and continues to engage in the behaviour.
My proposals will incorporate important safeguards to ensure that the orders can be used for the benefit of the community as a whole. My amendments will ensure that an application for an anti-social behaviour order will be a last resort in situations where other steps, including Garda warnings to desist, have been ignored. I stress that the orders will not be targeted at any particular group but will provide a means of dealing with persistent anti-social activity by individuals who come to the attention of the Garda and the courts.
Dáil Éireann 608 Written Answers Homeless Persons.