I thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, for allowing me to raise this important matter on the Adjournment and I thank the Minister of State with responsibility for children, Deputy Hanafin, for coming into the House to respond to the debate.
While there are 185 places in children's detention centres funded and supervised by the Department of Education and Science and a further 63 places for disturbed children funded by the health boards, the residential services for disturbed and delinquent juveniles are totally inadequate. It is a regular occurrence that judges castigate the Government for failing in its responsibility to these children.
I recently became acquainted with such a case, a truly sad and disturbing case, where a 14 year old boy, his parents and family are getting shoddy treatment from the organs of the State. This 14 year old boy has had a troubled few years. He became unmanageable at school and because of his delinquent behaviour he could not continue at that school. He became aggressive and unmanageable at home also. The health board was asked for help and support but unfortunately it was slow to respond and its efforts to provide real support were minimal.
On the advice of the health board the parents reluctantly initiated criminal charges against their son. The District Court sentenced the boy to two years at Oberstown detention centre. Following a period of assessment at St. Michael's, the boy again appeared in court and, as is now a regular occurrence, no place could be found for him in Oberstown. For the past few weeks this boy has made weekly appearances in District Courts in the midlands, always accompanied by three gardaí, his parents, their solicitor and his own solicitor. He must take the day out to make the long journey down to the midlands. Despite the stated threat from the District Court judge that he will send this child to Mountjoy Prison, no place has been provided in Oberstown, to which he was originally sentenced.
On his most recent trip to the District Court, he was locked up in a cell in the local Garda station in that midlands town. Let us not forget that we are talking about a 14 year old disturbed boy. His cell mates were, first, a middle-aged man who claimed to be in the IRA and told very colourful stories about his shooting and robbing escapades around the country. His second cell mate, a younger man, boasted of his skills as an armed robber. That child was left with these companions in that cell for up to two hours.
This incident, and this boy's case, give rise to a number of questions. First, who agreed that this was a suitable holding arrangement for this boy on the day of his court appearance in that town? Second, what efforts were made to find more suitable arrangements? Third, is it acceptable that such a vulnerable young person should be dragged up and down the country one day each week, with the obvious neglect of therapy, counselling and schooling? Fourth, did his assessment indicate that there would be a suitable detention centre in the UK catering specially for the needs of children such as this boy? Fifth, is the Minister in a position to confirm that the boy was not sent to this centre in the UK because the health board refused to pay the requisite fee of £40,000 per annum? Sixth, is it reasonable that this disturbed adolescent from a rural setting should be detained in Oberstown – whose inmates, on release, have a re-offending record of more than 80% – with juvenile criminals, many of whom are very experienced, at an annual cost to the State in excess of £80,000? Seventh, why did the health board not intervene earlier?
The boy in question comes from a decent family which is highly respected in its locality. His parents want the best for their child and they want him to receive the treatment to which he is entitled and which he deserves in order that he can be reintegrated into the local community. The State has failed this boy and his family. Despite the benefits of the Celtic tiger, he will be labelled a criminal rather than receive the therapy which would possibly enable him to play a responsible role in society.