Dáil debates

Thursday, 23 June 2005

Adjournment Debate.

Juvenile Diversion Projects.

8:00 pm

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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I thank the Ceann Comhairle for giving me permission to raise the circumstances in which the Bris project in the Westside part of Galway city, part of the diversion programme of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, was terminated; the manner in which the programme was terminated; such plans as exist for the resumption of the project and the timescale for such, given that a number of activities had been planned for the participants during the summer period.

Bris was one of 64 projects that are part of a diversion programme which is very successful. Perhaps more than 88% of participants do not end up in juvenile crime statistics. Therefore, it was a great shock to find that this project, which had been working very successfully, was terminated. At one time it dealt with 100 youths and this figure fluctuated down as far as 42.

On 31 May it was suggested that the sponsoring organisation Le Chéile, which undertook the management of the project, was to be replaced by the Galway Youth Federation. On the occasion of the supposed handing over from one management group to another, six gardaí, a Garda inspector and others arrived and proceeded to remove files, computers and other material from the project offices. This has led to a serious situation concerning the interpretation of this action, the manner in which it was executed and how it affects the permanent worker, who had such a good relationship with the families and the young people involved.

I live near this area and have visited this project. I am very familiar with it. The young people were due to take part in a five-a-side soccer tournament, sailing classes had been organised and now there is nothing. If I inquire I can be told that these young people have not fallen out of the concern of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and that the gardaí are in touch with those who are young offenders. The Bris project was concerned not just with those referred as young offenders but also those who were at risk. That is the essence of the project.

What happens now? Why was an alternative sponsoring organisation not found? Why was alternative management not investigated? Who was consulted? Was the city council consulted? It was involved at one stage and paid the salary of a second worker on the project. The parents and those who live on the local authority estates all around that area have signed a petition asking that the project be restored. There is no information available as to whether it will be restored.

There are successful diversion programmes run, for example, by Foróige in Ballybane and Knocknacarra in the north part of the city. Was Foróige asked if it could extend its resources to step in where Le Chéile stepped out? What was the arrangement with Le Chéile? What was the basis for the sudden departure of one group of people and what was the basis for accepting that another group was willing? I understand that after 31 May a letter was produced suggesting that the Galway Youth Federation was now not proceeding.

The net effect is that young people and families have been left at risk and are not being provided for. It is an appalling consequence. I hope another group can be invited as an interim measure. Could the liaison service have run the projects? Could a co-operative have been established? There were volunteers — successful people from very deprived backgrounds who had come to this project with serious problems, some of whom had made it all the way through the third level system. They now have nothing to volunteer their services to, the children have nowhere to come, the parents have nothing to send their children to and the entire community has suffered.

Around midday, six gardaí, a Garda inspector and others arrived and began moving equipment. The professional full-time worker there had long experience of working in youth work and had a MSc in sociology and youth work from Swansea University. He was not told what was happening, he was simply told he no longer had a job.

I ask the Minister to answer these questions.

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; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Deputy Michael D. Higgins for raising this issue on the Adjournment. I agree with him that the diversion projects are an important and useful part of our juvenile justice system. In fact, I appointed a committee to monitor the effectiveness of the diversion programmes, which has now reported. I will publish that report in the next few weeks. One of the features it establishes is that the Deputy is quite correct in stating that the diversion programmes are very successful in diverting a large number of youths from the offending path.

As the Deputy is aware, the Garda youth diversion projects are community-based, multi-agency crime prevention initiatives, which seek to divert young people from becoming involved or further involved in anti-social or criminal behaviour. The projects provide suitable activities to facilitate personal development, promote civic responsibility and improve the prospects of employment. The projects also contribute to improving the quality of life within communities and enhancing the relationship between the Garda Síochána and local communities. The projects are funded by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and administered by the community relations section of the Garda Síochána. The Minister and I are committed to their continuing development and also, as resources permit, to their expansion.

The first projects, originally known as Garda special projects, were established in 1991 following a sudden outbreak of lawlessness in a number of communities which resulted in street violence and public order offences, including the unauthorised taking of cars. These offences were committed mainly by young people and occurred in communities that faced many problems. By October 2001, the number of projects had reached the existing level of 64. Many of the projects established in recent years were facilitated by the allocation of funding under the national development plan.

The rapid expansion in project numbers created quality assurance challenges to the operation and management of the projects. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform commissioned an evaluation report on the Garda youth diversion projects, which suggested that a set of guidelines was required to develop a planned and strategic approach. As a result, in 2001 the Department commissioned the centre for social and educational research at the Dublin Institute of Technology, Rathmines, to prepare comprehensive guidelines which were launched by the Minister in May 2003. The guidelines set out best practice for the establishment, operation, administration and monitoring of projects and best practice concerning preventative activities and interventions in dealing with marginalised young people.

The Garda youth diversion projects are established by the Garda Síochána following a process of consultation with local community interests and youth service providers. Projects are established in response to local crime problems with the objective of giving local communities some degree of ownership in tackling the problems faced by their areas. The management committees are representative of the various interests involved. Participation in the projects is voluntary.

The primary project target group, which forms the majority of project participants, comprises young people who have entered the Garda juvenile diversion programme and are considered at risk of remaining within the justice system. A secondary project target group comprises young persons who, although they have not been officially cautioned, have come to the attention of the Garda Síochána, the community or local agencies as a result of their behaviour and are considered at risk of entering the justice system at a future date.

The number of participants in each project differs according to local circumstances and resources. It is estimated that the 64 Garda youth diversion projects cater for approximately 3,150 persons in the current year. The young people involved, as well as their parents, community members, local gardaí and project co-ordinators, are overwhelmingly of the view that the projects are beneficial.

Funding of €5.471 million has been allocated to Garda youth diversion projects this year. Up to recently, there were three projects operating in County Galway: the Junction project in Ballinasloe; the Bris project — to which the Deputy referred — in Galway city; and the Bán project in Ballybane. The Bris project commenced in May 2001.

Le Chéile, already referred to by the Deputy, is a voluntary organisation situated in Galway which agreed to become the employer of the project staff. It was responsible for all issues regarding contract of employment, salary and line management. The activities of the project were overseen by a project committee made up of representatives of Le Chéile, the Garda Síochána, Galway City Council, local clergy and the local vocational education committee. A total of €75,374 was allocated by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the project for this year.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has been informed by the Garda authorities that the Bris Garda youth diversion project terminated on 31 May 2005, following the withdrawal of service by the employer of the project staff, Le Chéile.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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That is so.

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; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister was further informed that Le Chéile informed the Garda Síochána, by letter dated 25 April 2005, of its intention to withdraw from the project and that it had offered a severance package to the co-ordinator, which was accepted.

The Garda authorities instructed local gardaí to ensure that all property purchased by the project with public funding and files on participants were accounted for. This property has been taken into Garda custody and all public funds unspent are under the control of the Garda Síochána.

It is anticipated that the project will be evaluated in accordance with the guidelines in the near future. Following this evaluation, a decision will be made on the feasibility of starting a new project under the Garda youth diversion project guidelines. As Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform with responsibility for juvenile justice, I will raise this matter in the Department and will take a personal interest in it.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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I thank the Minister of State and appreciate what he has said. Meanwhile, there is no sailing or soccer but I appreciate that he will raise the question with the Department.