Call for action on anti-social behaviour

STANDING Orders were suspended at the monthly meeting of the City Council’s Environmental Services Committee on Thursday to allow an emergency discussion on the levels of anti-social behaviour in St Columb’s Park.

The proposal to suspend Standing Orders was made by the DUP’s Maurice Devenney, who said he had become increasingly concerned about the number of incidents being reported to his party since the opening of the Peace Bridge and the nature of the behaviour involved. His appeal for targeted action to be taken to curb anti-social behaviour in the area received cross-party support as well as support from the Council officers.

“We have received quite a number of complaints about young people in the park and on the bridge and in and around Ebrington Square. They are perceived to be young Nationalists from the Cityside, some even draped in Tricolours, shouting sectarian abuse and burning Loyalist flags in the park,” he said.

“Young people in the Protestant community have also been threatened with knives,” he said.

Mr Devenney said that young Protestant boys had taken steps not to be pointed out, including not wearing Rangers of Northern Ireland tops, but the problem did not stop there and it was his understanding family groups had been on the receiving end of abuse too.

“Quite a number of families have raised the same issue. They have been in the park with young children and said they would never go back again because of the drinking, drug abuse and graffiti on the old church building,” he said.

The DUP Alderman said that when he had raised the issue in last week’s Sentinel the police had claimed there was no increase , yet had previously admitted to fellow DUP man, Alderman Drew Thompson that there had been an increase when he had raised the issue with them.

“He took six families to the police, so they cannot say these incidents are not happening. We will be seeking a meeting with the police ,” he said.

Mr Devenney said the other issue he wanted to raise under was the number of business premises in the area that had suffered broken windows, while the DUP office was also damaged and three flags has been taken, while a banner celebrating the Queen’s Jubilee had been taken down and burned in the square.

“We have to ask the question ‘What are the police doing about it?’,” he said, also asking if the Council’s wardens were patrolling the park area.

“We have cameras on the bridge and security cameras in the Square. Are these monitored and can they identify the people causing the annoyance? As we look forward to the UK City of Culture we don’t want the wrong image of our city going out,” he said.

Supporting Mr Devenney, the SDLP’s Sean Carr asked if the complaints had been made to the PSNI so that official complaints could be investigated, and enquired if anybody had asked to see the CCTV footage. He noted that the Peace Bridge was monitored by two cameras.

Noting the matter should be raised at a DPP meeting, he said it was a police matter and the police “should be hounded until they do something”.

His comments were supported by Sinn Fein’s Tony Hassan, who said: “It is the duty of the police to get to the bottom of all this.”

He said the issue should be raised at the Community Safety Committee and that the police should be “made to take action”.

“If the CCTV cameras are working they will show who is responsible,” he said.

City engineer John Kelpie, said he would be “quite happy” to take the matter forward internally and have the department that oversaw the work of the Council wardens review the activity in the area, but this was part of the wider solution to the problem, which would involve the police.

However, he assured councillors that the council would ensure the wardens were playing their part in solving the issue.