Concerns were mounting today that tough laws designed to tackle yob culture are not being used in Northern Ireland despite growing fears over the menace of anti-social behaviour.
Government figures revealed today that since Anti Social Behaviour Orders (Asbos) were first introduced in the province more than two years ago, they have been used on only 29 occasions. This includes only 18 full Asbos being served and 11 interim Asbos.
The figure was today described as "paltry" by an MP who has encouraged local councils here to make better use of the legislation.
In England and Wales more than 7,300 Asbos have been served since they were introduced in 1999.
Asbos were originally designed by New Labour to help prevent graffiti, abusive and intimidating language, excessive late night noise, dropping litter or drunken behaviour on the streets.
They involve a court order which can include restrictions on entering a geographical area or impose a ban on a specific act or associating with certain people. Police, local councils or the Housing Executive can apply for Asbos and breaches of them can result in custodial sentences.
However, despite the small number of Asbos served in Northern Ireland, low level nuisance crime - which ruins the quality of life for many people - continues to increase here.
Latest PSNI statistics reveal that there were 22,865 reported criminal damage offences in the period April to October 31 2006, an increase of 8.9% from the same period in 2005 when the total was 20,996.
Information released by Criminal Justice Minister David Hanson in Westminster revealed that 14 council areas in Northern Ireland have so far not issued any Asbos at all, despite the laws being in place since August 2004.
Ballymena has emerged as Northern Ireland's Asbo capital. Nine of the court orders have been issued in the borough.
Four Asbos have been issued in Belfast and three in Larne.
Two were issued in Coleraine, Londonderry, Newtownabbey and North Down.
One each was issue in Ards, Craigavon, Dungannon, Magherafelt and Newry and Mourne.
North Down MP Lady Sylvia Hermon said it was disappointing that Northern Ireland was lagging so far behind the rest of the UK.
She added that anti-social concerns were as high here as in England or Wales.
She said: "Only 18 full Asbos have been obtained in Northern Ireland in well over two years.
"This paltry figure does not stand up when compared with England and Wales where the figures are over 7,000.
"In fact there is no county in England and Wales which has secured so few Asbos as Northern Ireland as a whole," Lady Hermon added.
"It isn't even a matter of devolution because local councils can, of course, bring these cases to court.
"It is high time Asbos were used much more vigorously right across Northern Ireland," she said.