File picture: The number of complaints over behaviour relating to homes and local housing estates is on the rise
Complaints over anti-social behaviour in local housing estates increased steeply last year and are continuing to do so this year during the pandemic lockdowns.
The number of complaints received by the council has been on the rise, going from 135 in 2015 to 428 in 2019. The council expects the number to be far higher for 2020 — exacerbated by Covid restrictions which have seen public order issues in estates and houses. There were 46 complaints this October alone.
They vary in seriousness from drugs, threats and violence, to parking, refuse and noise issues. The council is now preparing to launch its new anti-social behaviour strategy bringing multiple agencies together in an effort to combat the issue.
At Kilkenny’s Joint Policing Committee, director of services for housing Mary Mulholland outlined how the strategy will work. The aim is to prevent and reduce incidents of anti-social behaviour, to co-ordinate the response to it, and to improve the effectiveness of enforcement actions.
“This is a broader approach to try and tackle anti-social behaviour on an estate management and a community basis,” said Ms Mulholland.
“I think the complexity and seriousness of the complaints we’ve been receiving in the last 12 to 18 months warrants a much closer working relationship with an Garda Siochana and other agencies, such as HSE and Tusla.”
Garda chief superintendent Padraig Dunne described the strategy document as ‘excellent’, and said the work being done by Ms Mulholland and her team was ‘probably to the fore in the country’. He said anti-social behaviour was on the rise, but the trend was not confined to this county.
Chief Supt Dunne, who is responsible for a garda division encompassing Kilkenny, Waterford and Carlow, said other areas were seeing similar trends.
“I can say the same thing is becoming prevalent in all three places, and we are no different to the rest of the country,” he said.
“We do have to look however. When you look at that excellent report by Mary Mulholland, we do have to look at personal responsibility. It boils back down to that, people’s rights versus their responsibilities.
“It’s very important that my right doesn’t impinge on the rights of others that I live beside, or I want my rights to supercede that of others. Everyone is entitled to a safe home.”
The new draft strategy outlines how the council intends to combat the rise in incidents and pioneer a multi-agency approach involving gardaí, animal welfare groups, the Department of Social Protection, Tusla and the HSE.
It will include the setting up of a inter-departmental team within the local authority as well as regional tenant liaison officer committees to improve communication between elected members and tenant liaison officers. It also sets out to identify estates with high levels of anti-social behaviour and encourage tenant participation and awareness in those estates.
Ms Mulholland said the council would be giving an undertaking to carry out 100 inspections each year in relation to refuse and maintenance issues. There is also an ambition to develop a tenancy management system for vulnerable tenants.
“In some cases, tenants have capacity issues and find the management of a household difficult, to identify them for tenancy support to prevent the escalation of issues into something that affects their neighbours,” she said.
There is also consideration of dealing with anti-social behaviour complaints against someone who is not a local authority tenant. In such an instance, the council can take action under exclusion orders in the interest of good estate management.
Cases will also be identified where it is felt a tenancy review or a ‘refresher course’ in the tenancy agreement may be required.
“It was identified many tenants signed a tenancy agreement 30 years ago – or perhaps their parents did – and they are not familiar with their rights and responsibilities,” said Ms Mulholland.
Chairman of the JPC Cllr Pat Fitzpatrick said the document had been an aim of the JPC and he was pleased to see it happening.
“I’m delighted to see the depth it in, but I would also like to see it reviewed annually as well, because it is only when put a document into place that you see if there is anything short in it,” he said.
Local TD John McGuinness said he thought the document was excellent.
“It has to be put in place as quickly as possible, because as we discuss these documents and our approach to anti-social behaviour, drink and drugs – it is getting out of hand,” he said.
Cllr Andrew McGuinness welcomed the new strategy and thanked the housing staff for their work on it.
“I want the message to go out loud and clear to our own housing tenants that are living in city and county that are experiencing anti-social behaviour that may be afraid to report,” he said.
“The message should be loud and clear that their report will be treated with absolute sensitivity.”
The draft strategy document is due to be brought to the full meeting of Kilkenny County Council for discussion later this month.