Child welfare

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Children in prison

Ivana Bacik (Lab, Dublin University) raised the continued detention of children in St Patrick’s Institution (Seanad Eireann, Debates, 6th October 2011, 662-4).  It was a medium security building dated to 1850 and the government had given a commitment to close the prison to 16 to 17 year olds.  The hearing in Geneva that day showed that Ireland continued to be criticized for detaining children there.  In 2009, 229 boys aged 16 and 17 were committed there and at the end of 2010, there were 38 boys therein.  The Ombudsman for Children, the Children’s Rights Alliance and the Irish Penal Reform Trust had called for an immediate end to detaining children there, as had Thomas Hammerberg, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights.  The minister had said that he would move the boys to Oberstown, but there was no timeframe for this.  She asked for a specific date by which the use of St Patrick’s would end.  Meantime, would they be given access to a complaints mechanism, like the Ombudsman for Children, from which they were currently excluded?  St Patrick’s Institution was wholly inappropriate because children spent most of the day locked up and family visits were screened.  Children recounted appalling stories about their treatment there.


Replying for the Minister for Justice and Equality, Ciaran Cannon told her that it was the intention of the government that the practice would end when accommodation was available in Oberstown.  Design work for additional capacity there was well under way and planning approval had been received.  It was intended that the project be delivered in phases.  The steering committee had signed off on concept and sketch designs and the OPW design team was finalizing detailed specifications and tender documentation.  Government approved was required before tendering.  The project would take a number of years to complete.  When achieved, all children in custody would be in Oberstown.


The minister was of the view that children in detention should have right of access to an independent complaints mechanism.  The Ombudsman for Children did not have a function here, for the statutory powers were vested in the Inspector of Prisons and the visiting committees.  The inspector makes unannounced and announced visits to all prisons, including St Patricks and had shown a particular interest in it. As far as was practicable, 16 and 17 year olds were kept in a separate wing with single room accommodation.  Once the children were transferred  to Oberstown, they would come under the remit of the Ombudsman for Children.


Ivanna Bacik said she was disappointed but not surprised by the reply but asked for confirmation of the completion date of mid-2013 as given by the previous minister in December 2009.  The Minister of State told her that he could not give a commitment that would prejudice the capital expenditure review.