Workers Party representative Joanne Lowry has questioned the way in which we look at and respond to ‘anti-social behaviour.
“Anti-social behaviour has been dominating west Belfast headlines and social media sites in recent months, with a particular focus on Dunville and Falls Parks.
“Young people have been gathering on street corners, at shop fronts and other public spaces for generations: it’s nothing new. However, when it ends in assaults, criminal damage and attacks on cars and houses then it should quite rightly be condemned, and solutions sought”, she said.
Making it worse
“However, we need to be clear about what we identify as anti-social behaviour and make sure that the answers we propose don’t end up making the problem worse.
It is always more attractive to try and find a quick ‘solution’ to the consequences rather than taking time to examine the causes. Are we in danger of doing that when it comes to young people’s behaviour? she asked
“West Belfast has got problems – big problems. Nearly half the population over 16 are in receipt of some form of benefits. We have the second highest levels of unemployment in Northern Ireland and even then, 17% of local people who have jobs need to claim Employment and Support Allowances because their jobs are dangerously low paid. In some parts of west Belfast that figure rises to over 22% in Clonard and over 26% in the Lower Falls”, Joanne said.
“More than one fifth of west Belfast teenagers leave school with less than five high grade GCSEs. More than 40% of children in west Belfast live in low income families. – the highest levels in Northern Ireland”,
“We have the third highest crime levels and the third highest incidents of anti-social behaviour. Can we really pretend that all these facts are not related? she said.
A positive role
“When we propose solutions to anti-social behaviour, we can’t ignore the context and the causes. This is not just a matter for the PSNI, we all have a role to play – but it must be a thoughtful and positive one.
Much good work is being doing by local youth leaders, most of it in their own time. Their interventions on the ground are constructive and helpful toward young people and their work is characterised by timely interventions and experience of working with teenagers and adolescents. They need our support.”, Joanne said
“Young people need to socialise, they need to meet with others of their own age and interests. We can’t simply close parks and cordon off public spaces hoping that the problem will go away. The actual amount of anti-social behaviour is relatively small given that one third of the west Belfast population is aged between 15 and 24”, she pointed out
“Supporting those who know what they are doing and addressing the long-term causes of this type of behaviour is a much more constructive approach than some than have been tried.
“Very often, the people who make the most noise about anti-social behaviour, who demonise teenagers and who point the finger at the police are the ones who make the least effort in ensuring better prospects for the young people involved.”, concluded Joanne.