Dáil debates

Tuesday, 30 March 2004

Adjournment Debate.

Probation and Welfare Service.

8:00 pm

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Almost two years ago, the OPW purchased for €1.5 million the old Allied Irish Banks premises on Main Street, Blanchardstown, with the intention of using the building for a probation and welfare service offices for Dublin 15. This move was undertaken without any consultation with local people or local politicians and public representatives. It is not known what type of consultation or evaluation process took place in either the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform or the OPW prior to the acquisition regarding whether this was the best site and offered the best value for money.

Two years later, this building remains empty and idle, a monument to the Government's ineptitude with public money. Other public institutions in the area, such as FÁS, the citizen's information centre and the Department of Social and Family Affairs all occupy office premises on the Blanchardstown Town Centre complex, which is now the business and shopping heart of Dublin 15. At meetings with local residents, the probation and welfare service's representatives indicated that they wanted a site in the central business and commercial district of Dublin 15. However, they seemed to be unaware that this is now the town centre complex.

If the probation and welfare service is anxious to have a successful service in Blanchardstown, a development I support, providing some degree of anonymity for its clients, why does it not follow the example of FÁS, the Department of Social and Family Affairs, etc., and locate to purpose-built office accommodation at the town centre complex? This is likely to be a far more economical proposition because, in addition to the €1.5 million spent on purchasing the AIB building, it has emerged that the project will accrue in the region of a further €1.4 million in refurbishment costs. This refurbishment will include, for example, knocking down the back of the building to create 12 car parking spaces. Locals remain unconvinced about the suitability of the building and the exorbitant costs involved. Unusually for a justice building, the structure faces directly on to the main street, which is infrequently supervised by regular or community gardaí and does not have CCTV, and has no forecourt or grounds, leading to potential security problems.

Were any value for money criteria applied to this project and were any feasibility studies carried out in respect of the suitability of the site and more economic alternatives? Local residents have expressed their concerns about the appropriateness of this project, located as it is directly opposite a large public house. With the flight of public service offices to the town centre, participants in the probation and welfare service scheme will now stand out much more rather than being more anonymous if they had to attend at a town centre location.

Many local residents in the immediate area are advancing in age. Residents in Dublin 15 are happy to have a probation service and many would also like to have a court service. Anyone familiar with the recent extraordinary development of Dublin 15 would be aware that the logical place for these developments is within the town centre and its environs.

At a public meeting last night, the Government representatives present indicated that the refurbishment has been put on hold. Will the Minister of State clarify what this involves? During the debate on the Estimates today, I spoke to the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, who has responsibility for the OPW. He seemed to indicate that the holding period would be short and that there would be a cursory examination followed by the project proceeding. Will the Minister of State agree to meet a deputation of local public representatives and local people to discuss this issue in detail in order to achieve an outcome that is favourable for local people and provides a probation and welfare service for the people of Dublin 15 at the most appropriate location?

9:00 pm

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

The probation and welfare service nationwide has moved towards localisation of its offices during the past number of years.

The mission statement of the probation and welfare service is to foster public safety and to promote the common good by reducing the level of re-offending. This is achieved through the management of offenders on supervision orders from the courts in their local and/or immediate surrounding areas. The service aims to reduce victimisation of members of local communities by developing positive relationships with offenders to reduce and/or eliminate offending. Local service delivery enhances the chances of co-operation from offenders and facilitates contact between the service staff, families of the offenders and staff of health boards and other locally-based agencies.

Currently, the only District Court team working from the probation and welfare service headquarters in Smithfield is the team covering Dublin 7 and 15. The location of the team in Smithfield can place considerable financial expense and travel time on the client and service staff in keeping appointments. All other Dublin District Court teams have been localised. It should be noted that in Dublin, the probation and welfare service has been successful in localising its offices in Dún Laoghaire, Ballyfermot, Tallaght, Finglas, Crumlin and Clondalkin. No complaint has been received to date from any member of the public, nor has any complaint been brought to the attention of any officer of the service by the Garda regarding the behaviour of those attending a local office.

The premises referred to by the Deputy at Main Street, Blanchardstown, was acquired on 15 April 2002 by the Office of Public Works on behalf of the probation and welfare service. The total cost of the purchase, as stated by the Deputy, was €1.5 million, including VAT. Provision of a probation centre fulfils one of the commitments agreed under the national development plan. The development is taking place after much discussion with groups in the local community. Officers of the service have met with the local authority, the local chamber of commerce and residents to share with them the proposed plans. The Office of Public Works has met with local neighbours and has taken on board their views in regard to the development. The architect has also taken considerable time to provide a building that is in harmony with the surroundings and that brings minimum change to the street vista. The fit out will be to the highest standards.

The overall project budget is in the region of €2.9 million.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

One could imagine what a local school could do with that money.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Provision has been made for local schools in the area.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Children are being taught in prefabricated accommodation, not permanent buildings.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

The Deputy should read this year's Estimates. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has requested the Office of Public Works to examine alternative options in the Blanchardstown area. However, I should emphasise that there is considerable urgency attaching to the development of a probation and welfare centre in the Blanchardstown area.