OPINION: Parents should be punished for their children's anti-social behaviour

Government ministers are regularly lampooned in this country for not doing enough on the issues within their remit. However, at the weekend, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan raised an extremely important point, facing it head on when he said, "it is up to us all, particularly parents and guardians, to ensure that children are brought up to be respectful and law-abiding."

He was commenting after Garda crime figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) showed a 6.7 % increase in anti-social behaviour in 2017. It was notable too that assault and harrassment incidents jumped 15% and damage to property or the environment rose by 4.7%.

The number of so-called Asbos or anti-social behaviour orders increased by 50% in 2017, according to gardaí, but Minister Flanagan said that authorities alone cannot tackle this behaviour - and he is right. 

Despite saying that gardaí cannot eradicate anti-social activity and crime alone, he pointed to Garda visibility being important. He said 800 new gardaí were coming on stream and into stations this year, but the vast majority of those will go to our cities.

The reality is, unless we're able to place a garda on every street corner, in every housing estate and every rural field in the country, we're not going to be able to fix this issue by authority alone. 

Like Charlie Flanagan said, these lessons are first learned at home, and are "further reinforced in our schools and then by society in general." That's the crux of it - a huge responsibility lies in the home of these teenagers and young people partaking in anti-social behaviour. 

There has been an increase in assaults around the country, including a couple of very high-profile deaths involving young teenagers, and it's easy for people at home to blame the lack of gardaí or bemoan the deterioration of society as they sit at home with not a single clue where their teenage children are. This is an inconvenient truth for some people. 

The summer and good weather has seen an increase in young people out and about and the increase in the anti-social incidents referenced above is therefore no coincidence. The impulsive response to Charlie Flanagan saying parents need to be held accountable is to shout about garda resources and to tell him to get his house in order first, but that's a hollow argument. 

Nobody wants to see our gardaí following groups of teenagers around for fear they might engage in something illegal, and the vast majority won't, of course. The solution to this is to punish the parents of minors displaying intolerable anti-social behaviour, whether that's damaging a flower box at a local business, or carrying out a robbery or assault. 

The law should still deal with the young people personally but a graduated punishment scheme for parents who fail to control their children or regulate their behaviour would stamp out a problem becoming a scourge on many communities. It's not unreasonable to suggest fines for parents of children and teenagers in this way, with the proceeds going directly back to the victims of their crimes. 

It may be controversial but it might just teach parents, not just their kids, about their responsibilities as citizens, as well as guardians. 


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