Fining social housing tenants for anti-social behaviour would prove a 'legal and administrative nightmare' for Waterford City & County Council.
That's according to Independent Councillor, Donal Barry.
Cllr. Barry was responding to a motion put forward by Fianna Fail Councillor Eamon Quinlan which requested that legal powers be given to Waterford Council to distribute fines to social housing tenants engaging in anti-social behaviour. The motion was passed, and the local authority will now write to the Minister for Housing and Local Government to seek approval.
Speaking at Thursday's Plenary Meeting, Cllr. Quinlan said that all local representatives have been vocal at the issue at some point.
"Anti-social behaviour is a problem. We need to demonstrate the good neighbour principle, by dealing with it where we encounter it among our own stock. We have the majority of our stock where perfectly law-abiding people are being harassed by people who engage in anti-social behaviour. It's not two neighbours having a row. It has a legal definition and it involves consistent community harassment. All councillors here have spoken about it in the past."
Cllr. Quinlan says if the motion was implemented, it would discourage the tenants from engaging in anti-social behaviour - as well as offering a less severe alternative discipline to eviction.
"The reason why this motion is coming through is due to the protections under The Constitution, often Waterford Council only has the option of eviction. That can only be processed after a court finding or judgement. Therefore, it's felt after consultation that if we were given fine powers, there would be a clear legal rationale. It would be proportionate in size. More importantly, it would suede people from engaging in social behaviour. The more they engage in it, the higher the fines."
Cllr. Barry abstained from the vote on the motion, and clashed with Cllr. Quinlan at the meeting, stating that the motion feeds into the rhetoric that anti-social behaviour only occurs in Council estates.
Cllr. Barry said this was a 'misconception', and that the idea that every 'drug dealer' or 'criminal' is a council tenant is far from the reality. Cllr. Quinlan then accused Cllr. Barry of putting words into his mouth, and 'not being able to get his head around' the motion.
Both councillors spoke on Deise Today, with both declining the opportunity to apologise to one another. Cllr. Quinlan says that he was 'disappointed' that so many councillors voiced concerns regarding the legality of the process.
"It hit the mark with me, and I really didn't like it - that all the other councillors who gave their submissions and comments on the day were talking about the legality of it. I was disappointed that the impression was being given by Cllr. Barry that because I want to step up, and I feel the Council should step up - and the councillors by a majority vote did pass the motion. We need to start bringing in fines for those who are causing trouble to the rest of our social housing tenants, and maintain the integrity of our social housing stock. Somehow, i was being 'demonising' or 'politically incorrect'."
Cllr. Barry says that he did actually agree to an extent with the sentiment of what Cllr. Quinlan is trying to achieve, but he believes a wider debate needs to be opened up around the issue of anti-social behaviour.
"I actually broadly agree with Eamon and what he was saying there, but on the other side of it - we had a workshop recently regarding anti-social behaviour. The Gardai and Waterford Council officials were present. It came across that we're having a very low level of anti-social behaviour. What I was doing the other day - which we should be doing more of on Waterford City & County Council - was I was opening up the debate around anti-social behaviour. I understood where Eamon was coming from with the motion, but I felt the implementation of that would be a legal and administrative nightmare for the Council."
Anti-social behaviour doesn't just occur in Council-owned estates, and there's no talk of fines for those in private housing or students - says Cllr. Barry.
"My gripe with the motion was that it mentioned the tenant's rent book and attach the fines to them. I want to open up a debate on anti-social behaviour. There's not a mention there of what happens if someone living in a private estate engages in anti-social behaviour? There's no one talking about putting a fine onto their property tax. What levels of fines are there going to be? Are we going to have to talk about fining students?".