Thursday, 4 July 2013
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
Child Detention Centres
5. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs in view of the 2012 annual report of the Ombudsman for Children, the current capacity, work and accommodation conditions at Trinity House, Oberstown boys and Oberstown girls schools; the implementation of the new working roster and the implications of same for staff and for children; the date on which the investigation by Victor McElfatrick will be published; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32644/13]
I wish to update the House on the significant and ground-breaking programme of work being implemented by this Government in the area of child detention. I am sure the Deputy will acknowledge that we are the first Government to have ended the detention of 16 year olds in St. Patrick's Institution. In addition, we have provided capital funding of €50 million for the development of the national child detention facilities at Oberstown. Other Governments have talked for decades about ending this practice but capital was never allocated. We have allocated the capital to ensure that Oberstown will be built. Regulations were signed last year by the Minister for Justice and Equality and I to extend the remit of the Ombudsman for Children to include St. Patrick's Institution. We have established a dedicated multidisciplinary assessment and therapeutic care team for children in detention and special care. Yesterday, we became the first Government to move to close St. Patrick's Institution.
In respect of the Deputy's question about the development of the national child detention facilities at Oberstown, this project is required in order to give effect to the programme for Government commitment to end the practice of detaining children in adult prison facilities. My officials have, in conjunction with the Office of Public Works, completed the design process and secured planning permission for the capital development. This will result in an increase in the overall detention capacity on the campus from 52 places at present to 90 places in total, along with associated education, visiting and other facilities. The required capacity to enable the assignment of responsibility for all children under the age of 18 years to the Oberstown campus is to be delivered in the first phase of the project by mid-2014.
There is legal provision under the Children Act 2001 for 24 male bed spaces in Trinity House School, eight female bed spaces in Oberstown Girls School and 20 male bed spaces in Oberstown Boys School. However, only 16 of the certified 24 male bed spaces in Trinity House School are currently available for use due to staffing issues. The Irish Youth Justice Service, which is based in my Department, is currently in discussions with management and staff on the Oberstown campus on an initiative to reorganise the detention capacity for male and female bed places in order to meet the increased demand for male bed places from the courts. There has been a 70% increase in referrals. This is being progressed so as to achieve its earliest possible commencement.
The first ever campus-wide roster with a set of harmonised conditions for hours worked was implemented on 25 February 2013 following protracted negotiation and agreement between staff and management at the Labour Relations Commission. I recognise the co-operation of staff. There is a number of outstanding issues which are the subject of ongoing consideration in conjunction with implementation of the campus-wide roster.
There is an ongoing industrial relations process on the campus as well as discussion with respect to the Haddington Road agreement and the implications it will have-----
I very much welcome the news of the impending closure of St Patrick's Institution. I heard an interview earlier today with the Ombudsman for Children. Will the Minister advise us whether an interim situation exists for the transfer from St. Patrick's Institution to Wheatfield Prison? Is an arrangement in place pending availability of the required accommodation and supports in terms of staffing and resources at Oberstown?
From inquiries I made after the recent comments of Mr. Justice Ryan, I was very concerned about the situation for boys and girls at Oberstown and Trinity House. Mr. Justice Ryan was unable to send offenders there because they were not in a position to take additional numbers. Nevertheless, and the Minister has confirmed this, there is bed capacity there. We need a full explanation as to why these beds are not in use and available. I am told insufficient staff cover the services there and this is from people very close to the service. They work under extreme stress and pressure. One must conclude this is clearly serving neither staff nor children. As a result - I know this is not something the Minister or I would want to be associated with in any shape or form - the State is failing in its responsibility to provide for children in these situations and failing in its duty of care.
Mr. Justice Ryan's remarks are hugely important and we must take them very seriously. In the context of Victor McElfatrick's report what steps will the Minister take and how quickly will we see the full complement of beds in use at Oberstown and for how long does she expect the Wheatfield interim arrangement to last?
The Minister for Justice and Equality has announced the closure of St. Patrick's Institution. Discussions will be held and it is intended to move to Wheatfield Prison. As far as 17 year olds on remand are concerned, interim arrangements will have to be made. Clearly some 17 year olds who have been sentenced cannot transfer to Wheatfield Prison. It is intended to have discussions between the Department, the Department of Justice and Equality and Oberstown to see what facilities can be made available for 17 year olds. The Deputy has rightly pointed out we must ensure the extra six beds are made available to the courts. I view this issue with the utmost seriousness, which is why the gentleman to whom the Deputy referred was asked to compile a report and work with the staff there. His report has been presented to the board, which is actively engaged on this issue, as is the Irish Youth Justice Service, in terms of coming to a resolution.
As the Deputy is aware, protracted negotiations took place over a very long period to arrive at a point where we have a joint approach between the three facilities to the work being done and with regard to the young people so there can be movement between the three services. Historically, people worked in just one of the services and did not move between the three.
A roster working across the three services was agreed and began in February 2013. I commend the staff on this. There are ongoing industrial relations issues with regard to releasing the extra beds which are being dealt with and they will have to be resolved. I want these issues to be resolved as quickly as possible-----
-----so we can meet our obligations to these young people and to the courts.
There is quite a lot of movement of young people in and out of the service and beds become available on a regular basis but the number of referrals from the courts has increased. The average number of 16 year olds in St. Patrick's detention centre was ten but in recent weeks 17 have been referred there by the courts.
It is important we analyse why more 16 year olds are being referred and what are the underlying factors. We must consider supervision orders and Garda diversion programmes. What is happening is that a greater number of 16 year olds are being referred to the service.
I thank the Minister for her reply. Has Mr. McElfatrick reported yet? Has the Minister seen the report? Will it be published? My inquiries suggest the reason the beds were not available to be used was not because an insufficient number of staff is allocated but that there are real issues as a consequence of sick leave, stress leave and assault leave. It is certainly inadequately staffed, but this is exacerbated by the fact it has been insufficient historically. With an increasing number of referrals there just is not the compliment of staff necessary to cope. Does the Minister have any idea of the number of the full complement of staff at the Oberstown network who are on sick leave, stress leave and assault leave? We do not want to see this. One can understand people being off sick but stress is not acceptable. It would be a stressful employment. We want to avoid assault situations arising.
Where the situation is already stretched, underresourced or underprovided for these matters will continue to arise. It needs to be addressed holistically in the round so we get to a situation where the mistakes of the past are not repeated.
The report was received by the board in May and it is acting on it and working with the staff to ensure the issues highlighted are dealt with. I have also obtained agreement on extra funding for staffing when the new facility comes on board. I will also put in place regulations to ensure we can use the beds allocated for young girls. This will involve a reorganising of staffing and services on the campus but I am confident with the co-operation of the staff we can get to use these beds in the very near future. I thank the staff who have co-operated in getting this roster available. I now want to ensure we can open the extra beds.
Traditionally there has been a high level of sick leave on the campus. Looking after young people in detention is stressful and difficult work and staff need to be supported. I am confident with the staffing numbers we have at present that we will be in a position to open the extra facilities.