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Overview and Recommendations: Public Order Offences In Ireland



  1. The National Crime Council is an independent body established in July, 1999 by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to act as a forum for the development and contribution of recommendations that will assist public policy making on issues relating to the reduction and prevention of crime.

  2. In commissioning this research in March, 2001 into public order offending in Ireland the National Crime Council was aware of the concern about this particular type of behaviour. Whilst much of the behaviour, as this report shows, may be of a minor nature the fallout from public order offences can extend beyond the individuals involved, for example:
    • Exposure to public order offending (in either a residential community or a city/town centre) can affect the general 'quality of life' of citizens, while also increasing the 'fear of crime', especially among the more vulnerable members of society and the parents of young adults;
    • How incidents broadly classified as 'public disorder' are reported in the media can contribute to a disproportionate fear among the public about the true nature and extent of this type of offending;
    • Injured and intoxicated individuals frequently require medical attention in Accident and Emergency Departments, with financial and capacity implications for the health sector;
    • There is an economic cost to employers through sick leave and absenteeism;
    • Businesses carry the costs associated with damage to their property;
    • Much of the time and resources of An Garda Síochána during the late night hours are taken up with policing public order type incidents; and
    • Prosecutions for public order offences are adding to court backlogs.
  3. The Council's main objective was to establish the level of public order offending in Ireland and also to identify the likely contributory factors, including (but not exclusively) alcohol consumption. In commissioning this research the Council acknowledged that the statistical base needed to establish the true extent of this offending may not be available across a range of agencies and that an innovative approach would be required by the researchers. However, the Council believed that even if the level of offending could not be measured to a high degree of accuracy, every effort should be made to utilise all possible sources of data. Whilst there are limitations to the statistics available, the researchers ensured that all of the data made available, was utilised to its full potential. The Council notes that it was not possible to access the descriptive component of the PULSE data for reasons of confidentiality. Nevertheless, this wide-ranging report on patterns of public order offending in Ireland provides valuable information on a heretofore under-researched area.

  4. The Institute of Criminology, Faculty of Law, University College Dublin was commissioned to carry out this research in March, 2001. We would like to thank the principal researchers, Dr. Emma Clare and Ms. Alison Digney and also, Professor Finbarr McAuley and Dr. Ian O'Donnell, for completing this report on behalf of the Council. The Council also wishes to thank all of the agencies and individuals who provided assistance to the research team.

    Scope of the Report

  5. The history of public order legislation in Ireland is traced from nineteenth century statutes to the present Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act, 1994 (hereafter CJPOA). The report looks at the proceedings taken under the CJPOA from 1996 to 2001 which reveal significant increases. Closer attention is given to particular sections of the Act and the trends which have developed with regard to these individual sections.

  6. This report analyses public order offences occurring 'before and after' the enactment of the CJPOA, from 1988 to 1994 ('before the Act') and from 1996 to 2001 ('after the Act'), such an approach allows for an assessment of the impact of the enactment of the CJPOA.

  7. In the main, only those offences defined exclusively under the CJPOA are included. It is important to note that this definition was necessary in order to place realistic parameters on the research and to ensure a high level of consistency of definition. The following are a summary of behaviours defined as prosecutable offences under the Act:

    • Intoxication in a public place (1)
    • Disorderly conduct in a public place;
    • Threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour in a public place;
    • Failure to comply with the direction of a member of An Garda Garda Síochána;
    • Entering a building, etc., with intent to commit an offence; and
    • Failure to surrender intoxicating liquor, etc.
  8. In addition to the CJPOA, a significant number, albeit a decreasing number annually, of public order incidents are still prosecuted by the Gardaí under the pre-CJPOA legislation. In 2001 there were 1,480 such prosecutions. The most frequently used are offences against the intoxicating liquor laws, namely drunkenness, simple and drunkenness with aggravation; in 2001 prosecutions were proceeded with in 834 and 422 cases respectively.

  9. Since 2000 and the introduction of the PULSE system, the Annual Report of An Garda Garda Síochána describes all offences as either headline offences or non-headline offences (2). The official Garda statistics for headline offences detail the number of crimes which have been reported to or are known to the Gardaí; this is the level of recorded crime. Currently, in the presentation of most non-headline offences, which includes public order, no information is provided on the recorded crime level, that is the number of offences reported to or known to the Gardaí, rather just the number of offences in which proceedings were taken is provided (3). The recorded statistics from An Garda Garda Síochána are the main source of information on crime in Ireland and for that reason this report has had to rely heavily on them. While recorded statistics are a good source of information on which to identify trends, it would be inappropriate to rely solely on them as indicators of the incidence of crimes, in this case the incidence of public disorder. For instance, the observational data from this research shows that over half the incidents of public disorder observed were dealt with informally by members of An Garda Garda Síochána.

  10. The nature of public order incidents are examined by utilising quantitative data from An Garda Garda Síochána; specifically the PULSE system and the Annual Reports of the Commissioner (4), data from the Courts Service and data yielded from 200 hours of direct observation of Garda patrols (5). There were two observation sites, one in Dublin city centre ('Liffeyside') and one in the Dublin suburbs ('Parkway'). The researchers accompanied Garda patrols for an average of three nights per month for the six months - October, 2001 to March, 2002 inclusive - and observed public order incidents as they happened. In addition to this interviews were conducted with 50 members of An Garda Garda Síochána, based in Dublin, to provide general information to the researchers on their perceptions of public order offending. Finally, the report considers the response of the criminal justice system to public disorder. The data indicate there are often resource implications of public order offending for both An Garda Garda Síochána and the Courts Service.

    Trends in Public Order Offending disclosed by the Report

  11. The trends and patterns in public order offending before and subsequent to the introduction of the CJPOA are explored in the report. In recent years public order offending, particularly when committed by juveniles and young people (or 'youths' as they are often referred to), has received considerable media coverage. The majority of the public order offences as described in the report are of a relatively minor nature and are more of a social nuisance than a threat to public safety, for example, consuming alcohol in a public place or loitering. The report also suggests that the behaviour is quite tightly contained; the majority occurring on certain days of the week (more specifically at the weekend), within a relatively short timeframe (the very early hours of the morning) and in a limited number of locations. However, breaches of public order may lead to incidents of a more serious nature and can have serious consequences. These crimes of a more serious nature are, therefore, recorded and prosecuted under other legislation and so do not feature in this report.

    Pre-Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act, 1994 Legislation

  12. Prior to the introduction of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act in 1994, public order type offences were prosecuted under a variety of different Acts, such as the Dublin Police Acts, 1836 and 1842 and the Licensing Acts, 1872 and 1874. This report examines public order offences prosecuted under this legislation for the fourteen years from 1988 to 2001. From 1988 to 1993, the year before the CJPOA was enacted, public order offence prosecutions rose consistently, with the exception of 1990 when there was a very slight decrease. These offences were predominantly of aggravated drunkenness and threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour. Following the enactment of the CJPOA in 1994 the number of public order offences prosecuted under the old legislation naturally began to decline, as offences previously proceeded with under the old legislation have since been taken under the CJPOA. As there is no data available on CJPOA prosecutions for 1994 and 1995 the precise transition to the CJPOA cannot be accurately described.

    Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act, 1994

  13. Proceedings taken under the CJPOA are analysed for the six year period 1996 to 2001 inclusive, 1996 is taken as the base year rather than 1994 or 1995, as it was the first year following its enactment that proceedings were recorded in respect of all sections of the Act. The year 1997 showed a 57 per cent increase over 1996 in proceedings commenced under the new Act, representing the largest yearly increase during the six year period considered. Increases of such magnitude are not uncommon, however, following the introduction of new legislation and so should be treated with caution. The rate of increase from 1998 onwards is slower, with 1999 to 2000 showing the next largest increase of 22 per cent. The consistent trend upwards in public order offences prosecuted under the CJPOA can be partly explained by the increased attention given to such offences by An Garda Síochána and its commitment to the prosecution of such offences. Though public order offences have increased since the enactment of the CJPOA, they still represent just 13 per cent of all non-headline offences proceeded with, increasing from three per cent in 1996. Proceedings taken in respect of all non-headline offences decreased by 28 per cent over the same six year period (1996 to 2001 inclusive).

  14. Proceedings taken under section 4 (intoxication in a public place) and section 6 (threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour) tend to dominate the total figures. Prosecutions taken under both of these sections have increased substantially from 1996: in the case of section 4 offences there were 3,983 proceedings in 1996 which increased to 17,805 proceedings in 2001; and with section 6 offences there were 6,667 proceedings in 1996 which increased to 15,718 proceedings in 2001. Again, most of these increases occurred in the earlier years of the CJPOA legislation, from 1996 to 1998. Since 1999 yearly increases have been more moderate. From 1997 to 2001 (6), an average of 42 per cent of all section 4 offences proceeded with were recorded in the Dublin region; along with an average of 46 per cent of section 6 offences and 44 per cent of all section 8 offences (failure to comply with a direction of a member of An Garda Síochána). Two thirds of all proceedings taken in respect of section 11 offences (entering a building with intent to commit an offence) between 1997 and 2001 related to offences committed in the Dublin region. The average conviction rate across the six years, 1996 to 2001 inclusive, for all public order offences was 63 per cent.

  15. Two sections of the legislation showed a decline in prosecutions since 1996; entering a building with intent to commit an offence (section 11) and failure to surrender intoxicating liquor (section 22). The number of prosecutions for each of these in 2001 were 592 and 22 respectively. As well as falling prosecution rates, failure to surrender intoxicating liquor consistently exhibits the lowest conviction rates with an average of 37 per cent between 1999 and 2001. The number prosecuted under the control of access to certain events (section 21)are the lowest of all sections of the Act listed, predominantly in single figures. Prosecutions pursued under section 8 (failure to comply with direction of a member of An Garda Síochána) and section 11 (entering a building with intent to commit an offence) demonstrate the highest conviction rates, both averaging 66 per cent between 1996 and 2001. Figures on public order offending by juveniles in the official statistics are presented in such a way that detailed analysis proved problematic. Referrals to the Garda National Juvenile Office are discussed briefly in the report.

  16. The PULSE data clearly identified specific times and days of the week when public order offending reached a peak. As one might expect given the nature of public order offences the most prolific offending times were in the late evening and early hours of the morning, PULSE data showed that just over 70 per cent of all such incidents occurred between 22.00 and 04.00. Similarly, the peak days were very early on Saturday (the follow-on from Friday night) and very early on Sunday (the follow-on from Saturday night). Typically there was very little offending between 06.00 and 20.00 on any day of the week. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays there were also very low levels of incidents.

  17. PULSE data revealed that over 90 per cent of public order offences took place either 'on the street' or 'on the road'. More detailed information relating to Dublin over a 26 month period, showed that there were 18 streets which could be classed as having high levels of public order offending, that is 100 or more offences were recorded. Over a quarter of the incidents of public order which occurred on these 18 high incidence streets, actually occurred on O'Connell Street. A further 21 streets, again all focused around the north and south inner city, revealed medium level activity, between 50 and 99 incidents. 18. The records of court disposals in respect of public order prosecutions made by the five main Dublin city centre Garda stations between January, 2000 and March, 2002 are examined. These show that 33 per cent of prosecutions were struck out due to non-appearance by the Gardaí in court or due to lack of evidence. In almost one in five cases the public order incident was taken into consideration when the offender was being convicted of another offence. Only slightly over one per cent of the prosecutions resulted in imprisonment, the majority of these were for offences under section 6 of the Act, involving threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour.


The Council believes that the responsibility for managing the behaviours identified in this report rests with a range of service providers and extends beyond the sole responsibility of An Garda Síochána. It is vital that, amongst others, publicans, restaurateurs, fast food outlet proprietors and security staff in late night venues accept their responsibility to tackle anti-social behaviour which occurs in and around their premises and between their clientele. This responsibility must include an awareness of the negative implications of responses that simply transfer the problem from their premises outside to the public domain. The recommendations of the Council are as follows:

An Garda Síochána

  1. A more co-ordinated approach should be developed to manage public order offending, involving An Garda Síochána taking the lead role and working with other interested parties such as the licensed trade, fast food outlet proprietors, the security industry and the local community. Such a co-ordinated approach would be adapted to suit the specific needs of different areas and communities.
  2. The Gardaí should further develop community policing structures that are responsive to community needs. These structures should be developed in conjunction with local community and youth leaders.
  3. The Council recognises that the unpredictable nature of public order offending poses challenges for members of An Garda Síochána, in light of this the Council recommends that members of An Garda Síochána receive ongoing training in how best to deal with this type of offending. This training should pay particular attention to maintaining a non-confrontational style; the avoidance of stereotyping and discrimination towards individuals and different sections of the community; and on how and when the different sections of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act, 1994 should be utilised.
  4. Members of An Garda Síochána should receive specific, ongoing training in how to relate to young people and on how to deal with situations involving young people.
  5. The Council welcomes the proposed Garda Inspectorate for the independent investigation of complaints and the independent oversight of Garda operating standards and recommends that this Inspectorate be established as soon as possible. Page 17
  6. The Council recommends that bona fide researchers be granted greater access to both internal Garda research and data from the PULSE system, mindful of privacy and anonymity considerations.
  7. The Report shows that some public order incidents are still being prosecuted under the old nineteenth century, pre-Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act, 1994 legislation. The Council recommends that research be undertaken to ascertain why this older legislation is still being used.


Closed Circuit Television

The analysis of CCTV in this report, suggests that it is most successfully employed when those monitoring the CCTV have training and experience in the use of the system and there is dedicated monitoring of the cameras. The Council recommends that:

  1. All Garda CCTV systems should have dedicated, trained personnel assigned to monitor the cameras. The necessary resources must be deployed for this purpose to ensure the most effective use of this technology and the Council sees no compelling reason why trained, civilian personnel could not be employed for this purpose; and
  2. A standardised code of practice governing all aspects of the use of Garda CCTV and CCTV footage be developed, having regard to privacy and other issues and this code of practice should be made public.

Licensed Premises

  1. Consideration should be given to the extension of closure orders, as provided for in the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 2000, to other offences committed by the licensee in respect of their licensed premises, such as the serving of alcohol to intoxicated persons.
  2. A court considering any application under the Intoxicating Liquor Acts should be empowered to enquire into the incidents of public order offending inside or adjacent to the premises.
  3. The Council recommends that anyone working in either a licensed premises or an off-licence, should be given specific training on how to deal with incidents of public order offending or situations which could become violent or threatening during the course of their work.

The Judicial Response to Public Disorder

  1. The Council recommends that research be conducted to ascertain how the courts deal with public order offending on a nationwide basis.
  2. Efforts must be made to ensure that court delays are minimised so that public order offenders can be dealt with by the courts in a reasonable length of time.

Alcohol Policies

  1. The evidence from the report suggests an association between alcohol consumption and public order offending. The Council endorses the findings of the Strategic Task Force on Alcohol Interim Report of May 2002 and recommends the implementation of the findings of that report on alcohol policy as a matter of priority.
  2. The Council recommends that a new National Alcohol Strategy be developed to provide a framework which would set out clearly defined objectives and measurable criteria for implementation in a co-ordinated way by relevant Government Departments and agencies.

Young People and Public Order Offending

  1. The Council recommends that steps be taken to improve and extend the range and variety of youth services so that young people can meet and engage in age appropriate leisure time activities.
  2. In the planning and refurbishing of estates, planners should be required to make provision in their plans for the needs of the local community by providing appropriate and safe facilities that can be used by young people, thus fostering community integration and mutual respect for local residents.

Transport Plan

The Council recommends that an integrated transport plan be put in place to ensure that transport is available at appropriate times and of sufficient frequency to ensure the safe and speedy dispersal of large numbers of people away from entertainment venues and the potential to engage in acts of public disorder.

Research and Statistics

  1. There is a lack of research based evidence to support much of the comment around public order offending. The Council recommends that relevant and useful information should be collected on a regular and co-ordinated basis across the agencies of the criminal justice system as well as from other relevant bodies which would seek, inter alia, to ascertain:
    1. the extent of public order offending;
    2. the link between alcohol consumption and public disorder; and
    3. the costs associated with public order offending to a range of services including the health service, business and Local Authorities.
  2. Following the Government's acceptance of the Council's earlier recommendation that regular National Crime Victimisation Surveys be conducted, the Council recommends that dedicated questions related to public order offending should be included.
  3. The forthcoming National Longitudinal Study of Children is an invaluable opportunity to collect a wide spectrum of data in respect of young people's attitudes towards crime and the Gardaí. The Council recommends that the survey instrument should contain a section dedicated to young people's involvement in and opinions of antisocial behaviour as well as crime generally. The results should be reported to the relevant agencies at the earliest date to help inform future policy.


Introduction and Context

  1. This report provides a comprehensive analysis of the scale of public order offending in Ireland.
  2. Incidents of public disorder are examined according to the day, time and place of their occurrence. A further breakdown is provided by Garda region.
  3. The primary sources of national-level data utilised were the annual reports of An Garda Síochána for the years 1988 to 2001, and records from the PULSE computer system for the period October 2001 to March 2002.
  4. Two sites in Dublin - 'Liffeyside' and 'Parkway' - were selected for closer scrutiny. Gardaí were accompanied on patrol in these areas for a total of more than 200 hours. During this time the researchers observed the Garda response to 177 public order incidents. In addition, lengthy interviews were carried out with 50 members of the Force.
  5. Supplementary data were collected from the Courts Service, the Probation and Welfare Service and the Irish Prison Service.

    Trends and Patterns

  6. Between 1996 and 2001 the number of offences proceeded with under the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act, 1994 increased by 161 per cent. Each year, around two thirds of these cases resulted in a conviction.

  7. Section 4 (intoxication in a public place) and section 6 (threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour) were the most frequently invoked sections of the Act. In combination they accounted for almost 80 per cent of proceedings taken in 2001.

  8. All of the Garda regions showed increases in the number of proceedings taken under the CJPOA between 1997 and 2001. The highest increase was recorded in the Eastern region (Longford/Westmeath, Louth/Meath, Laois/Offaly and Carlow/Kildare).

  9. Between 1996 and 2001 the number of public order related referrals to the Garda Juvenile Diversion Programme grew by 162 per cent; almost identical to the growth in proceedings taken. The most striking change was in referrals for intoxication in a public place, which increased seven-fold.

    Nature of Public Order Incidents

  10. The social meaning of public order incidents can be difficult to decipher. Typically they begin and end within a matter of minutes and it is sometimes difficult to identify a clear victim or perpetrator.

  11. Time: Almost one in three public order offences was recorded between midnight and 02.00. The periods of peak disorder were observed at the weekends: the majority of public order offences (55 per cent of the total PULSE sample) were recorded between 20.00 on Friday and 04.00 on Monday.

  12. Location: The observational data revealed that 40 per cent of incidents in 'Liffeyside' took place on or outside licensed premises. Very few occurred in the vicinity of fast-food outlets or at taxi ranks. A small number of streets accounted for the majority of incidents.

  13. Alcohol: The PULSE data suggested that alcohol had been consumed by the offender in 97 per cent of cases where this facet of the incident was recorded, and 98 per cent of the Gardaí interviewed believed that alcohol was the primary causal factor in public order offending. But analysis of the incidents observed by the researchers yielded a lower estimate: alcohol played a role in just over half of the total.

    The Response of the Criminal Justice System

  14. When the Gardaí arrived at the scene and determined that action was required, their response was either 'informal' or 'formal.' The former typically involved a request to desist or move on, or a verbal warning. The latter involved the taking down of details from participants, the confiscation of alcohol, or arrest.

  15. There were significant differences in the styles of policing observed at the two sites. In 'Parkway' the approach was sometimes confrontational: the targets were usually groups of young people, and the Gardaí regularly directed strong language at their 'charges.' In 'Liffeyside' a more benign approach prevailed.

  16. The nature of public disorder differed at the two sites. In 'Parkway' the offenders were young, often teenagers; the problems frequently occurred in parks and open spaces; and the offences typically involved loitering or the possession of alcohol. In 'Liffeyside' the offenders were older; the offences took place later at night and around licensed premises; and they were of a more serious nature - assaults, rows and disturbances were common.
  17. The majority of public order offences dealt with by the Dublin District Court resulted in the matter being struck out or dismissed. In one per cent of cases a sentence of imprisonment was imposed.


  1. For the purposes of the Act a public place includes any highway; any outdoor area to which members of the public have access and which is
    used for public recreational purposes; any cemetery or churchyard; any premises or other place to which members of the public have access or
    any train, vessel or vehicle used for the carriage of persons for reward.
  2. Prior to 2000 and the introduction of PULSE, all offences in the Annual Report of An Garda Síochána were described as either indictable or
  3. In the forthcoming Annual Report of An Garda Síochána for 2002 and subsequent Annual Reports the non-headline statistics will include
    details of all offences reported to or known to the Gardaí.
  4. Data from An Garda Síochána provided nationwide figures.
  5. Data from the Courts Service and observations of Garda patrols relates to Dublin only.
  6. Regional figures were not provided in the 1996 Commissioner’s Report.

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