FG will set up boot camps to deal with young offenders
BOOT camps for bad boys will be created around the country if Fine Gael wins the next election.
A punishment proposal being developed for the party's election manifesto would see the Army putting young offenders through a regime of spit-and-polish in order to straighten them out.
Giving the Defence Forces a role in disciplining wayward youths is the idea of Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny. But it is bound to spark accusations that the party is fomenting a climate of fear about juvenile crime.
The Government is about to introduce ASBOs (anti-social behaviour orders) from next year, and Fine Gael will want to appear just as tough, if not tougher, on lawlessness.
The party denied last night that it was pandering to a "hang 'em and flog 'em" wing within its ranks. But a Fianna Fail source commented: "What's next for Fine Gael - bringing back the birch? This is an outlandish idea, a crowd pleaser that could have hidden dangers."
Fine Gael defence spokesman Billy Timmins confirmed yesterday that he had been asked by Enda Kenny to look at ways in which the Defence Forces "could be used to make a contribution to wider issues in Irish society".
It is understood that there are two specific areas being explored, one of which involves wider deployment of the Defence Forces in a variety of community tasks, while the other homes in on juvenile justice.
Mr Timmins said this second approach was "to explore whether the Defence Forces could provide an alternative for young juveniles who would otherwise be committed to prison for anti-social behaviour or other minor criminal behaviour".
He said that the current annual cost of housing a prisoner is over ?90,000 and he insisted: "The absence of adequate rehabilitation in our prisons often results in many young offenders leaving more hardened and more likely to re-offend."
Mr Timmins said the Defence Forces, on the other hand, "imposes discipline and infuses members with a clear sense of rights and responsibilities." It had experience in delivering structured training and developing interpersonal skills, and it had a physical infrastructure throughout the country.
The Fine Gael leader confirmed the initiative, telling the Irish Independent: "Billy Timmins will examine how a pilot programme could be developed which would offer young offenders a voluntary option of undertaking a programme with the Defence Forces instead of going to prison."
However, military-style boot camps that were introduced in the UK by former Home Secretary Michael Howard to combat rising youth crime proved to be catastrophic. A Home Office study condemned the boot camps as a dismal failure.
The study found that the no-nonsense military-style drill did little to reduce criminality and actually encouraged anti-social behaviour.