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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 24 Apr 1991

Vol. 407 No. 4

Adjournment Debate. - Remedial Detention Centre.

Thank you for permitting me to raise this issue on the Adjournment.

The following item appeared in last Thursday's issue of The Dublin Tribune:

District Justice Hubert Wine criticised the "lack of acceptance of responsibility of the Government" in Dún Laoghaire Court last Thursday when a 13 year old youth with 17 charges against him was remanded for the third time that week. The boy's case was up for report to see whether a place was available for him in a detention centre. Justice Wine said: "In relation to the very serious nature of this matter, the passing of the buck appears to be continual". He called for a nonequivocal statement from the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Christopher Flood, setting out what was going to happen. "It is nothing short of outrageous that members of the judiciary are not advised about the future. This charade has got to stop."

He told the court that plans for building a centre in Finglas were "highly unsuitable" and that what was needed was a place of safety for those who require corrective treatment medically and otherwise. I ask the Government once and for all to wake up to deal with this matter as they should be doing. I have nowhere to send him except to the streets." The boy was remanded until 15th April.

Since then, yet another charge has been brought against this 13 year old and he is not the only one. Currently there are another 14 year old boy and a 12 year old boy, against whom there are multiple charges, who have had to be remanded by District Justice Wine and released back onto the streets, simply because there is nowhere to put them. Trinity House is full and so far the Government have failed to provide a remedial detention centre for young offenders.

This is not a new issue. District Justice Wine has been speaking out about it for quite some time. In February 1990, when the same district justice refused to send a 15 year old girl to an adult prison, the Minister for Justice promised that the question of a remedial detention centre would be treated as a matter of urgency and priority. Since then, little or nothing has happened, as the issue has been passed back and forth from the Departments of Justice to Education to Health.

The continuing failure to provide a remedial detention centre is undermining law enforcement in the Dún Laoghaire constituency, and in my view, it is now contributing to the growth in crime in the area, as these young criminals know that no matter what they do, they cannot be punished or corrected. They are walking out of the court and literally giving the two-fingers sign to the gardaí who have prosecuted them.

The gardaí are becoming increasingly frustrated; even if they catch one of these young criminals, and even if they produce evidence, no sanction can be imposed because there is nowhere to send them. The young criminals know this. It is open season, a licence for anarchy. They can do what they want and get away with it.

The public simply cannot understand why the Government are allowing this lawlessness to continue. There is a growing crime problem in the Dún Laoghaire constituency. The single most frequent issue now raised with me, as a public representative, relates to crime.

In the past week alone, I have been told of one housing estate where nine houses had sitting room windows broken by stone throwing, a doctor whose wife was attacked in their car while he was doing a house call, cars stolen and burned out and numerous cases of burglaries and physical attacks on local people. Today, I was told of the father of three teenage children, whose wife died three years ago, and who is now in a critical condition in hospital because of a savage beating he got last night. A lot of this trouble is unfortunately attributable to a small number of young thugs, some of whom are behaving like little mafia chiefs.

It is not acceptable that this tiny minority of troublemakers can, with impunity, intimidate people, force women and children into a state of virtual house arrest after dark, frighten people away from using the DART, frighten retired people from taking an evening stroll down the East Pier, and carry on a campaign of destruction and mayhem in local communities.

I recognise that it will take more than a detention centre to solve the crime problem, we will need more gardaí. We will need changes in the law, but the most urgent need is for a detention centre. We cannot wait for another two years, or another year, or even six months. The matter should be addressed immediately so that the Judiciary will be able to convict these young criminals and send them somewhere for corrective treatment.

There are at present three centres for boys committed by courts — Trinity House in Lusk provides secure accommodation for up to 30 boys, Finglas Children's Centre, comprising St. Michael's Assessment Centre, for about 20 boys on remand and St. Lawrence's Special School, for approximately 55 long stay boys, most of whom are committed by courts. St. Joseph's Special School, Clonmel, has accommodation for 75 boys about 60 per cent of whom would be committed through the courts. There is one centre for girls, Oberstown Remand and Assessment Centre in Lusk which has eight places for girls under 17 years of age.

The increasing frequency with which young offenders are appearing before our courts on serious charges and attracting custodial sentences is a matter of serious concern. It was in response to this development and the resultant need to provide adequate and suitable places to accommodate such cases that the Government decided to establish the interdepartmental group to consider ways of addressing this problem. One of the recommendations to come from that group was that additional accommodation be provided for both boys and girls to supplement existing facilities.

The Government have taken urgent action to follow up on this recommendation and arrangements are currently being made to bring new facilities on stream. The focus is on providing extra places for boys and girls dealt with by the courts. Arrangements are already well advanced for the refurbishment of a major part of the former Scoil Árd Mhuire in Lusk with a view to providing an additional eight to ten places for girls on an interim basis and 36 places for boys. Some site work has commenced and steps have already been taken to recruit staff. The first of this additional accommodation for boys is expected to be available in September of this year.

The reason accommodation for girls is on an interim basis is that a new purpose built school for 20 girls is being planned and should be completed in 1993. The new school will be located adjacent to the existing Finglas Children's Centre. Eight of the 20 places to be provided will be for girls on remand for assessment and the remaining 12 places will provide long term accommodation. Consultants have already been appointed to this project and the preparation of detailed plans is proceeding as a matter of urgency. It will be appreciated that the nature and purpose of the new school will be such as to require very careful planning at all stages to ensure that the best interests of the inhabitants are served while at the same time ensuring that the special nature of the school is not undermined. The number of places, 36, being provided for boys will be further supplemented when the new centre for girls at Finglas becomes available and the girls unit at Ard Mhuire becomes vacant as a result.

In regard to the security aspects of the institutions at Oberstown and Lusk, County Dublin, a detailed assessment of existing and future custodial features and requirements is being carried out at present under the aegis of my colleague, the Minister for Justice. I am satisfied that satisfactory security arrangements will be in place when the school opens in September next.

Finally, I can assure the House that the development of a more effective system of caring for youngsters who require secure confinement is high on the list of Government priorities. The extra accommodation being provided at Lusk and the recent assignment to the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Christ Flood, of co-ordinating the efforts of the Departments most involved in this area, namely, Education, Health and Justice, are clear indications of the Government's commitment to tackle this problem.