Is Graffiti Is A Serious Problem ?
Green Party T.D. John Gormley has in the past called for sweeping measures to stop the “serious problem” of graffiti. Namely:
The introduction of specific legislation to deal with the offence of graffiti/street art
The establishment of a Special Garda Graffiti Unit to target artists
Rewards to be offered for tip-offs on Taggers
Community service orders
A Graffiti Hotline
Revoking the driving licences of graffiti artists
Banning the sale of spray paint to minors as well as banning the possession of spray paint in public place.
Do solutions such as suspending someone's driving licence indicate that the Green Party consider Graffiti to be as serious as drunken driving which actually results in many deaths?
To get a feel for their thinking on this topic we have included a statement that Mr. Gormley read to the Dail (Irish Parliament) about a year ago.
Here is a statement made by Mr. Gormley about a year ago in the Irish Parliament. While his comments may be specific to Dublin or Ireland it still makes interesting reading no matter where you live.
Mr. Gormley: I thank the Ceann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to raise the issue of graffiti vandalism, a problem which is becoming worse by the day in Dublin city and elsewhere. From previous parliamentary questions I put down on this issue, it appears the Government does not have a coherent strategy to deal with this issue. Local authorities are only now becoming aware that there is a serious problem. However, they simply do not have the resources or legislation to tackle it properly.
Anyone who has visited capital cities throughout Europe knows that graffiti vandalism is a major problem in Paris, Berlin and Rome. These beautiful cities have been defaced by these graffiti vandals. Interestingly, London does not appear to have the same problem, nor does New York, a city I visited last week for the UN conference on AIDS. Surely it would not be too much for this Government to examine how the New York authorities, or the authorities in New South Wales in Australia, dealt with the graffiti problem.
The US is one of the most progressive countries when it comes to anti-graffiti measures. Its innovative approaches include providing incentives for citizens to use protective coatings to minimise the damage caused by graffiti, revoking the driving licences of graffiti offenders, banning the sale of spray paint to minors, banning the possession of spray paint in public places and the rapid removal or painting over of graffiti once it is discovered. Its graffiti solutions programme builds on deterrents and law enforcement and focuses on prevention, harm minimisation and the removal of graffiti.
It appears we have no specific graffiti offence in Irish law, nor has the Minister any intention to introduce specific legislation. We were informed by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that the Criminal Damage Act 1991 and the Litter Pollution Act 1997 cover the offence of graffiti. However, it is not at all clear how many people were convicted for graffiti vandalism last year. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform informed the House that there were 1,702 convictions for damaging or defacing property. How many were for graffiti vandalism? We were also told there was one conviction under the Litter Pollution Act 1997. Again, was this for graffiti vandalism?
The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, in reply to a parliamentary question stated he considers this legislation adequate. If this is so, why have we seen an upsurge in graffiti throughout Dublin? We cannot afford to underestimate the extent of this problem. This is not a harmless activity. Householders and shopkeepers must remove the graffiti and this costs a considerable amount of money. I know the owner of the pen shop on Dame Street had to remove graffiti from his windows and stonework on at least three occasions. Not only that, but graffiti gives rise to a sense of urban blight and lawlessness.
Although New South Wales had legislation dealing with property offences, it was felt necessary to introduce specific graffiti offences. These include damaging and defacing property by means of spray paint without reasonable excuse, the proof of which lies with the person. It attracts a maximum fine of 2,200 Australian dollars or imprisonment for six months or a period of community service work. It is also an offence for a person to have spray paint in his or her possession, with the intention that it should be used to damage or deface premises or other property.
Graffiti removal costs money. Approximately $17 billion a year is spent in the United States on the removal of graffiti. I suspect if we calculated the costs here, it would be considerable. It is often borne by the individual householder or shopkeeper. It is not good enough for the Government to continue to put its head in the sand on this issue.
I will suggest a number of steps we could use to deal with graffiti vandalism. The Government must introduce specific legislation to deal with the offence of graffiti vandalism. The Garda must have a special unit, as do many police forces in the United States, to deal with graffiti vandalism. New York city has GHOST, the graffiti habitual offenders suppression team, which gathers information using digital cameras. Rewards should also be offered, as in the United States, for tip-offs on "taggers" as they are known there.
Community service orders for individuals caught defacing property with graffiti should include provision that they remove the graffiti themselves in certain areas. Local authorities must be allocated sufficient resources and a system put in place for the quick removal of graffiti on public and private property. There should be a graffiti hotline to report graffiti immediately so it can be dealt with quickly. We need a graffiti strategy which includes the Garda, Dublin City Council, the Chamber of Commerce and residents' associations.
People suggest that certain graffiti amounts to artistic expression. If this is so, we can always make available blank walls in certain parts of the city to those who want to express themselves. However, much of what I witness does not amount to artistic expression. It is, quite simply, vandalism.
Mr. McDowell: I am standing in for my colleague the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, but I agree with every word the Deputy stated. Our response to graffiti has not been adequate to date and serious action must be taken on it. The constituency Deputy Gormley and I share has been under sustained attack in recent times. It seems to be spreading everywhere. I will return to that issue if I can.
Under the Litter Pollution Act, primary responsibility lies with local authorities. It is their function and we cannot establish a national body. I understand what the Deputy stated on Garda involvement and I will return to that issue. Gardaí have a great deal to do, but waiting and hoping that someone will produce a spray can and deface a wall in their presence is not productive.
The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, is satisfied that local authorities have adequate power under sections 19 and 20 to tackle the problem of defacement of property that is in, or visible from, a public place. Section 19 makes it an offence to deface property without the written authority of the relevant owner, occupier or person in charge. A local authority or its agents may enter and take the necessary remedial action.
Section 20 is a complementary provision which enables a local authority in the interests of amenity or of the environment to take remedial action on graffiti, even if it has been put up with the consent of the owner, which I imagine is extremely rare. The local authority may serve a notice on the occupier requiring steps to be taken to remove or otherwise remedy the defacement within a specified period of not less than seven days. Failure to comply with such a notice is an offence and, in the case of an offence, the local authority may give effect to the notice and recover costs. The local authority may also by arrangement with the occupier take steps to remedy the defacement. The local authority or its agents may by agreement enter and remedy the defacement themselves. It is also an offence to obstruct or impede a local authority in these actions under sections 19 and 20. Penalties under the litter Acts range from an on-the-spot fine of €125 to a fine, on summary conviction, not exceeding €3,000 or, on indictment, a fine not exceeding €130,000.
In addition to the Litter Pollution Acts, the Criminal Damage Act 1991 provides for the offences of damaging or defacing property. The Garda authorities take these very seriously. The Garda has put Operation Encounter and Operation Assist in place to focus on anti-social behaviour, including offences of criminal damage and defacing property. When gardaí detect such offences, culprits are processed through the courts or via the juvenile liaison system, as appropriate.
The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, in conjunction with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs has embarked on a pilot project to tackle graffiti specifically. It was originally proposed to operate in RAPID areas only but this did not occur. The obvious danger was that the activities in question would be displaced to non-RAPID areas, in which case the project would have achieved nothing.
I agree with the Deputy it is important for local authorities to provide a service enabling the rapid removal of graffiti. If one spends half an hour putting it up and it is gone the next day, one will not be so keen to do so again. That is the best way to curtail the activity rather than hoping a garda will find a graffiti artist in the act, given that the latter will obviously have a look-out to watch out for gardaí.
Each of Deputy Gormley's suggestions is constructive. Some €3 million has been provided this year for the pilot programme, which I want to see work. I was unhappy with the RAPID-based criterion and we will now operate on the basis of Garda districts instead.
Some national authorities take this matter very seriously and I notice that the NRA tries to paint out graffiti on motorways. The best deterrent is simply to eliminate it as rapidly as possible. In other areas, there is less progress.
Property owners must keep their premises clean. Even if they are vandalised they cannot say somebody else is responsible and that it is therefore somebody else's problem to solve. If one owns property, one's duty is to keep it clear of graffiti. Small shop owners and others whose lives would be made impossible by constant graffiti attacks should be assisted and I agree with the Deputy in this regard. However, it is a different matter in the case of large property development companies that have not got around to cleaning up their properties. It is no more acceptable for them to allow graffiti to be on their premises than to allow their sewers to be cracked. Graffiti is anti-social and degrades the whole community.
It will be interesting to see how the pilot programme works out this year. I agree very strongly with the Deputy that local authorities must raise their game to solve the problem and join in a partnership approach with the Garda to gain intelligence on who is responsible.
The Deputy made a good point on one's being in possession of spray paints without a reasonable excuse in circumstances giving rise to the inference that one might be a graffiti artist. We should include a provision that takes this into account in our law. Somebody, on doing a little research, should be able to track down where the major sales of spray paint are taking place and to whom it is being sold. Even if it can be ordered over the Internet, thus making it difficult to prevent, as was put to me, we must constantly make life difficult rather than easy for vandals.
I am grateful that the Deputy has raised this issue and I hope he will be glad that one of the pilot schemes is based in his and my constituency. We should see some of its benefits in the very near future.