Other Questions

Six minutes are allocated for each question.

Prison Visiting Committees

Sandra McLellan

Question:

6 Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of unannounced visits which were made, by the prison visiting committees to each of the prisons, including St. Patrick’s Institution during each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37927/11]

A visiting committee is appointed by the Minister for Justice and Equality to each prison under the Prisons (Visiting Committees) Act 1925 and Prisons (Visiting Committees) Order 1925. There are currently 14 visiting committees, one for each institution.

The function of visiting committees is to visit at frequent intervals the prison to which they are appointed and to hear any complaints which may be made to them by any prisoner. They report to me any abuses observed or found by them in the prison and any repairs which they believe may be urgently required. The visiting committee members have free access either collectively or individually to every part of their prison.

Details of visits, including announced and unannounced visits, along with the arrangements generally made by committees are for the most part contained in the prison visiting committee annual reports for 2010 which I published on 18 November 2011. These reports along with reports from previous years are available on my Department's website. In the case of St Patrick's Institution, the committee reported that they met monthly and carried out 48 random unannounced visits in 2010.

I have previously stated my intention to strengthen the independent oversight of our prisons. Under new legislation to be prepared, I intend to make visiting committees more effective while they continue their role of visiting prisoners and prisons and liaising on their behalf with prison authorities. The arrangements for membership of the committees will be changed and a link will be established between the visiting committees and the Inspector of Prisons in Ireland. I believe this will provide for a more integrated approach generally and will enhance independent oversight of our prison system.

With regard to St. Patrick's Institution, I have the report before me and it makes for great reading. However, let us consider some of the figures we have obtained since its publication. In a recent report by the Inspector of Prisons in Ireland, it was noted that 25% of the juvenile population in St. Patrick's Institution asked to be held on detention for their own safety. Given the number of complaints made in the recent prison report — I understand there were 19 in total — the figures do not appear to match up. There appears to be few complaints but a high percentage of juvenile prisoners seek special protection within the institution. What is the reason for this?

The reason for that is nothing to do with the prison staff. It is to do with young people being members of gangs and being afraid of other members of other gangs. This is a problem within the prison estate dealing with those in their late teens and early 20s in the context of gangs engaged in criminality. Some of these are engaged in violent criminality and the drugs trade where real rivalries exist. Some entering prison make the request that they be treated in the manner as stated by the Deputy. It is not as a result of a disciplinary problem that someone is placed in such a prison cell; it is because they fear for their safety upon admittance to the prison. This is something which must be catered for and it is part and parcel of the difficulties that arise from young people engaged in serious criminality or in a rivalry that produces substantial violence. Such violence translates itself from open society and communities to the prison system. That is the primary reason for the difficulty the Deputy described.

I again refer to complaints. The report states 44 requests for complaint forms were made, yet only 19 were submitted. That suggests for whatever reason people do not feel comfortable making complaints after receiving forms. Is there any reason why the remit of the Ombudsman for Children cannot be extended to cover that?

In the context of young people under 18 who are still accommodated in St. Patrick's, as the Deputy knows it is Government policy to bring that to an end and that requires the building of the new facility in Oberstown in Lusk. The planning for that will continue into 2012 and plans are being drawn up. From 1 January it will fall into the remit of the Minister for Children, which is where it should be.

As matters stand, at present St Patrick's Institution, because it is a prison primarily for adults over 18, does not fall within the general remit of the Ombudsman for Children. Should a prisoner in that prison wish to consult the ombudsman or the ombudsman wish to visit the prison, I can assure the Deputy that facility will be made available and no obstacle will be put in the way.

I do not know why there are occasions when people request complaint forms and do not lodge complaints. It may be on occasions they do not have a real complaint to make. As I have drawn to the Deputy's attention, we are going to do everything possible to ensure that there is independent oversight. The visiting committee, from reading its report relating to St Patrick's institution, was a very dedicated committee which engaged in its work very diligently and produced a report in which it set out its views.

I want to move from a situation where what happens in practice is that visiting committees, although they can contact the Minister during the year, tend to produce annual reports. I want direct communication between those appointed to prison visiting committees and the inspector of prisons. During the course of a year if there is a particular issue and they want to draw it to the inspector's attention they can do so and we will formalise in law an arrangement between members of the visiting committees and the inspector of prisons. That will produce better independent oversight and I hope we will be in a position to publish that legislation during the course of 2012.

Is it possible to inform prisoners that the option of communicating with the Ombudsman for Children is available?

If the Ombudsman for Children wishes to visit St. Patrick's Institution or talk to young people under 18 who are held there, she will have the fullest co-operation.

Cross-Border Projects

Dara Calleary

Question:

7 Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his response to the view of the Garda Commissioner and the Chief Constable of the PSNI, that the threat of dissident republican activity was severe; the steps he is taking to tackle this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38011/11]

I know that all Members of the House will join me in condemning all subversive groups and their activities. These groups may be called, as the Deputy refers to them, "dissident republicans", but such a label lends them an historical respectability they do not deserve. We should be clear that these people are no more than criminal terrorists using violence in pursuit of their own, sometimes personal, ends and using violence, frequently, for their own personal benefit. They have no support in the wider community, North and South, for either their criminal aims or for their violent methods.

Since early 2009 the threat level in Northern Ireland has been classified as severe. In particular, these groups have targeted PSNI officers and staff, most recently with the brutal murder of PSNI Constable Ronan Kerr in April of this year whose funeral I attended. The threat faced on this island from these subversives is a shared threat and I can assure the House that the Garda continues to co-operate seamlessly with the PSNI in actively pursuing and targeting these groups.

Operational policing co-operation is the responsibility of the Commissioner and the Chief Constable and their respective forces. Both police chiefs have emphasised the close nature and the high quality of the ongoing co-operation between their forces and it has been instrumental in preventing attacks, combating criminality and saving lives. The two police forces operate a cross-Border policing strategy, which covers areas including cross-Border investigations and operations, intelligence-sharing and security, ICT and emergency planning.

Combating the subversive threat has always been an absolute priority for the Garda authorities and it will remain so, even in the current climate of financial constraint. I can assure the Deputy and the House that the Government is committed to maintaining that high level of co-operation between the Garda and the PSNI. There is also close co-operation and regular contact between my Department, the Northern Ireland Department of Justice and the Northern Ireland Office. By working together on matters of mutual concern and interest we can improve community safety for all the people on this island.

I can advise the Deputy I met with the Northern Ireland Justice Minister, David Ford, twice last week and on both occasions we reviewed the various aspects of cross-Border co-operation between our Departments and related agencies, including the ongoing measures being taken to counteract subversive crime.

I thank the Minister for his response. I agree with the phrases he used. The matter came up in the context of reports from the meeting of the Chief Constable and the Commissioner last Friday. Are other agencies and Ministers involved in working with the Minister, such as the Revenue Commissioners or Customs? Do they have the similar strength of relationship the two police forces clearly have with their equivalents in the Six Counties? Do they have joint measures? Fuel smuggling and, I suspect, social welfare fraud could be issues. Is there a cross-governmental approach? Is the strength of the relationship between the police forces on the island equal, if not stronger, to that of other agencies?

There is very substantial co-operation and there have been joint operations involving the PSNI and Garda and Her Majesty's Revenue Services and the Revenue Commissioners. Those operations have been particularly successful in the context of dealing, not simply with subversion but with criminal gangs who have been engaged in fuel smuggling, drug trafficking and in bringing large amounts of tobacco products and cigarettes across the border into the Republic to evade revenue obligations that would otherwise arise.

It would be fair to say that the Minister, David Ford, MLA, and myself agree that the level of co-operation is as good as it could be. There is substantial interaction between agencies across the Border on both sides to ensure the maximum co-operation in tackling not just subversives but organised crime. I would maintain regular contact with Minister Ford, as he does with me, on occasion by telephone without formal meetings, where issues arise.

There is a close relationship between the Chief Constable Matt Baggott and the Garda Commissioner, and that will continue to be the case. I had the pleasure, with Minister Ford, of opening a joint police conference which was held a few days ago between the PSNI and the Garda Síochána in which they looked overall at policy and where we now stand, and future policy development in the tackling of organised crime and subversive crime on all parts of the island.

In terms of future policy development, would the Minister consider a cross-Border version of the CAB? He is putting a lot of work into establishing it on a European wide basis. It strikes me that some of the individuals involved in crime need such attention. Perhaps under the auspices of the Good Friday Agreement we would be able to come up with some sort of body that would have CAB-style powers to go after these people in the only way that we can hit them.

As the Deputy may know there is already that type of co-operation between this State and the United Kingdom that has operated reasonably well and, in so far as we can put in place new measures in co-operation with Northern Ireland now that the area of justice has been devolved, we are continuing to explore those.

I should say to the Deputy that in dealing with this area I also met last week with Hugo Swire, MLA, the Minister of State in the Northern Ireland Office, who deals with matters in this area, and I have also maintained contact with the Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, MP. There is an ongoing flow of information and interaction between officials on both sides of the Border. A number of working groups have been established in the criminal justice area and joint working groups North and South are developing policies across a broad range of areas.

Departmental Funding

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

8 Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the capital projects he will undertake in 2012. [38037/11]

Under the recently published Infrastructure and Capital Investment programme 2012-2016, the justice sector allocation for 2012 is €56 million. This represents a 30% reduction on the current year's allocation of €80 million. While detailed planning for 2012 is in the process of being finalised, it is important that this allocation is utilised in such a manner as to drive the maximum value possible and have the greatest impact.

Our key priority for 2012 is to address the issue of overcrowding and conditions in prisons. The lion's share of the 2012 allocation, €24.1million, is therefore targeted at addressing these issues within the Prison Service and will result in several major projects being undertaken or completed during 2012. Work will continue on the completion of a new wing in the Midlands Prison, which will result in an additional 300 spaces becoming available. In addition, renovations will be undertaken on B wing in Mountjoy Prison with the result that by the end of the year, almost 60% of cells will have in-cell sanitation. Other general infrastructural projects to be undertaken by the Prison Service in 2012 include the upgrading and enhancement of fire detection and CCTV systems and the development of key information technology systems.

Within the Courts Service Vote, building renovation and upgrading projects will commence at Wexford, Waterford, Mullingar, Portlaoise and Dundalk. There will be additional project work undertaken on information technology systems in order to facilitate the implementation of the Fines Act 2010, which will allow for fines to be paid by instalment.

In respect of the Justice Vote for 2012, I intend to continue with the development of a DNA database by the Forensic Science Laboratory. I also intend to explore how best the completion of the building of the new laboratory and office accommodation for the Office of the State Pathologist, which is a partnership project with Dublin City Council, can be progressed having regard to the limited capital sum available. The current works are suspended due to the original developer being placed in receivership and the project will need to be re-tendered in order to proceed.

On the Garda Síochána and Property Registration Authority Votes, the focus is on the efficient and effective delivery of services. In keeping with this aim, the majority of expenditure on these Votes will be on the development and maintenance of information technology and communications systems.

The Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality visited St. Patrick's Institution and Mountjoy Prison at the end of October. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the governor of Mountjoy, Mr. Edward Whelan, and his staff for the transformation they have overseen in recent years. I am pleased this work will continue.

However, there is a missed opportunity in the postponement of the construction of Thornton Hall. The Minister has indicated that the project may be considered in the future. While several large-scale capital projects under the remit of the Department of Health, for example, have been given the go ahead, this flagship prison accommodation project did not escape the cull. A great chance has thereby been lost to reform the prison system. Is the project dead or does the Minister envisage it commencing in the next three to four years? Is any review planned in this regard?

I agree that the governor of Mountjoy Prison, Mr. Whelan, has done an extraordinary job in a very short time. He has transformed the facility and put in place effective measures to reduce the amount of drugs and mobile telephones getting into the prison. He has made a very substantial difference and it is right that we acknowledge it.

The Thornton Hall project is not dead. I greatly regret that having spent a very large sum of money, in excess of €30 million, on the acquisition of lands for the prison in 2006, the previous Government, when it was flaithiúlach with money, did not use some of it to progress the project. It attempted to put in place a public private partnership but was not successful. We now find ourselves in a position of very limited funding.

The Government has accepted in principle the recommendations of the Thornton Hall review group that a new prison should ultimately be built at that site. I should also mention Kilworth Prison in Cork, about which I have substantial concerns in regard to its capacity. That is not to take away from the governor of that facility, who is also doing an extraordinary job. When we get to the autumn of next year and examine what capital is available in real terms to the Department for 2013, I hope we will have an opportunity at least to progress either the Kilworth or the Mountjoy project. The fact that we are now able to provide in-cell sanitation at Mountjoy is relieving some of the pressures, something which was considered impossible a few years ago. It may be that providing a facility to replace that at Kilworth will have a greater priority than addressing Thornton Hall. However, on a policy level, we are committed to both projects. Progress simply depends on whether the necessary funding is available.

Most of us are still thinking about 2012, never mind 2013. What the governor, Mr. Whelan, has done in Mountjoy shows what can be achieved with a modest expenditure, particularly in terms of simple measures relating to drugs and so on.

The Minister mentioned in his reply that information technology upgrades will be necessary in order to implement the provisions of the Fines Act. When we were discussing the Estimates this morning, moneys were reallocated from the Courts Service's information technology Vote to another area. Given the need for the upgrade project to be done as quickly as possible, why is there an underspend in respect of the Courts Service's information technology allocation?

I welcome the Minister's comment in regard to Kilworth Prison. In regard to the construction of new Garda stations, I presume this comes under the remit of the Department of Justice and Equality. We have just had a debate on the proposed closure of some existing stations. However, a planning application was recently submitted in respect of a new Garda station in Cork. Where will the capital funding come from to progress that project?

I understand the capital funding for Garda stations, fortunately, comes from the OPW. If I am wrong in that I will notify the Deputy in writing of the correction. It is my understanding that there are some plans within the OPW, in accordance with the limited financial envelope available to it, to progress the project to which the Deputy referred. However, whether it will progress in 2012 or perhaps go through a planning change I do not know. I will inquire into it further for the Deputy.

Regarding the information technology underspend to which Deputy Calleary referred, some of this can simply be due to timing. We dealt largely with current expenditure today, including maintenance issues and so on, whereas the putting in place of new software systems for the implementation of the provisions of the Fines Act is a capital project. Unfortunately, the Estimates produced by the previous Government in December 2010 did not include an allocation for funding for the new software. We now have that funding for next year and I will ensure it is secured in order to allow us to develop the system. That is why it is part of the programme to which I referred.

Judicial Appointments

John McGuinness

Question:

9 Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans and an associated timescale for the reform of the manner in which members of the Judiciary are appointed. [38034/11]

Under the Constitution, members of the Judiciary are appointed by the President on the advice of the Government. Applications for judicial appointments are dealt with by the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, which was established pursuant to the Court and Courts Officers Act 1995. The board consists of the Chief Justice, the Presidents of the High Court, Circuit Court and District Court, the Attorney General, nominated representatives of the Bar Council and the Law Society and three persons nominated by the Minister for Justice and Equality.

Under section 16 of the Act, where a judicial office stands vacant or before a vacancy in a judicial office arises, the advisory board submits the names of all persons who have informed it of their wish to be considered for appointment to that vacancy and the names of at least seven persons whom it recommends for appointment. Section 17 of the Act provides that these procedures shall not apply where the Government proposes to advise the President to appoint a serving judge. The Act further provides that the Government, when advising the President in regard to the appointment of a person to a judicial office, must first consider persons who have been recommended by the board. It is important to note that the board can neither submit nor recommend the name of a person unless he or she meets the eligibility requirements currently set out in law in respect of the post in question.

At an early stage following my appointment, I requested my officials to conduct an examination of the current judicial appointments procedure with particular reference to the practice in other jurisdictions. This review is wide-ranging and includes consideration of the following issues: the need to ensure and protect the principle of judicial independence; eligibility for appointment; composition of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board; the appointments process; accountability in respect of its functioning; and promoting equality and diversity. I expect to be in a position to give further consideration to the matter when the review is completed in the first quarter of next year. I will bring any proposals for change before the Government in the usual manner. The Act further provides for the Government, when advising the President on the appointment of a person to a judicial office, must first consider persons who have been recommended by the board. It is important to note that the board can neither submit nor recommend the name of a person unless that person meets the eligibility requirements currently set out in law for the post in question.

I preface my remarks by saying that we are very fortunate in our Judiciary whose members are independent minded and independent in spirit. As I said on Tuesday evening when speaking on the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Amendment) Bill, the Judiciary provides the checks and balances which both this House and any Government needs. However, there is undoubtedly a perception that one needs to have political connections to be appointed to the Bench. This is the perception, whether true or not. The appointments made by this Government and by Governments in which my party participated, have always emphasised this perception and the most recent appointments reinforce it.

Dearbhail McDonald, a fine journalist with theIrish Independent, produced research recently which showed there had been 6,000 applications for judicial appointments — an extraordinary figure — and yet, those selected in the most recent round were people with political connections. The Minister’s review is urgently required as some form of checks and balances is required in the system so those applicants without political connections would be confident of having as equal a chance as anybody else to serve on the Bench. There is a danger that the longer we leave the system as it is, that confidence will not be there.

It is unfortunate that there should be a perception in any circumstances that any form of political connection is required in order to be appointed to the Judiciary. In the case of every appointment made by this Government, the persons were appointed because of their legal expertise, their reputation as lawyers and in all but two of the appointments made, were appointments made on foot of a recommendation from the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board. The two appointments made that were not on foot of a recommendation from the board included the appointment of the Chief Justice, Susan Denham, who was an Ordinary Judge of the Supreme Court. The appointment of a Chief Justice is an appointment made by the Government and the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board has no role in this appointment. The other appointment was the promotion of Judge Thomas O'Donnell, a District Court Judge, to the Circuit Court. This was the promotion of a judge, as has happened in many instances and in which the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board plays no role.

What is particularly unfortunate is the presentation being made in the media to suggest that those who have ever engaged in political activity or those who have ever contributed to a political party, should first be ineligible to be appointed to the Judiciary and in my view it is also unfortunate that individuals who seek such appointment, who are recommended by the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board and who are appointed because of their expertise, now find themselves with regularity pilloried by some sections of the media as being unworthy of the appointments. It is very important that this House does not add to that perception. It is important to send out the message that such appointments will be made based on expertise. There is a very dangerous road now being travelled. This is a democracy and we have an interest in encouraging people of ability to engage in the democratic process, to engage in politics, to support one or other political party or to be independent in their political views. It would be most unfortunate if we created a system whereby because someone had been politically engaged, he or she was deemed ineligible and, indeed, would fear that if they seek judicial appointment, they will suffer the type of pillorying that has been experienced recently.

Although I think some sections of the media would not believe this, following some of the appointments made by this Government which were based on merit and recommendation from the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, I have opened my newspaper the following morning to read some allegation that someone has contributed to a candidate's election campaign or someone was engaged in politics in years gone by or has an aunt or an uncle, cousin or someone associated with a political party and the perception is presented that this is the reason he or she was appointed. On occasions, I have not known of any particular political commitments, engagements or relations. In the case of one of the recent appointments we seem to have arrived at the point where because someone was the sister-in-law of a TD, it was suggested an appointment had been made when in fact that individual was appointed because of the person's excellence and because the person was one of the names recommended by the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board.

We are over time so I must move on to Question No. 10.

Fines Legislation

Gerry Adams

Question:

10 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the level of funding required for full implementation of the remaining sections of the Fines Act 2010. [37921/11]

As I previously advised the House, the Fines Act 2010 is being commenced on a phased basis. This question is part of the Groundhog Day, I think. Does the Deputy wish me to move on and we will formally distribute the response and it might give us an opportunity to deal with a different issue?

Yes, I agree as we dealt with this matter earlier.

I thank all Deputies.

Prison Service

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

11 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if his attention has been drawn to the fact that Ireland is the only Council of Europe member state in which work undertaken by prisoners is unpaid; his plans to address this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37923/11]

I can advise the Deputy it is not factually correct that work undertaken by prisoners in Irish prisons is unpaid. All prisoners are eligible for a daily gratuity whether or not they carry out prison work, which is not the case in many other countries, and prisoners in most prisons may earn additional gratuities by carrying out certain types of work. The current rate of the daily gratuity is €2.35. The additional gratuity for prison work is typically paid in the form of vouchers which can be used to purchase goods in the prison tuck shop. The levels of additional gratuity are set by the governor in each institution. The current rate averages approximately €10 per week. I should point out also that most forms of work in Irish prisons offer an opportunity to avail of accredited training.

A review of the gratuity payments and allowances system has recently been completed by the Irish Prison Service. I am currently considering the recommendations arising from this review.

Is it correct to say that every prisoner receives a daily gratuity and those who undertake additional work are paid in vouchers?

Is it proposed to change that practice? I refer to the Irish Prison Service recommendation. For example, I am not paid in vouchers for my work as a TD and I am sure the Minister is not paid in vouchers for his work. I do not think it is fair to say that prisoners are being paid when they are given vouchers to spend in the tuck shop or whatever. I would not regard this as the same as being paid for work undertaken.

The moneys which prisoners receive go into a fund and it is available for them to use in prison if they wish by way of the tuck shop or other expenditure. It is also open to them to have it transmitted to family members if they wish.

People are in prison for a particular reason. It is a privilege that in return for work done they receive some small additional benefit, if I could put it that way. Certainly, the State is not in a position — I do not believe there would be any public support of any nature — for large sums of money to be paid to persons convicted of offences and sentenced to terms of imprisonment. It is extremely costly to the taxpayer to keep prisoners in prison and in that context, some people would be of the view that prisoners should contribute to that cost by work they carry out in prison. What prisoners receive is a nominal gratuity on a daily basis which ensures that prisoners can avail of certain benefits or purchase certain items in the tuck shop which may not otherwise be available to them and which, in particular, impecunious prisoners would not be able to afford otherwise. Arrangements can be made and are made on occasions for family members to furnish funds to prisoners to assist them in that regard. There is no question of any nature whatever of this State putting in place, during the lifetime of this Government, any substantial payments to prisoners in return for work done. These are extra gratuities to allow prisoners to avail of certain basic items in prison that are additional to the food provided or to purchase cigarettes or whatever. There is no question of going beyond that.

No one is suggesting we pay prisoners large sums for work they do in the prison system. I am sure the Minister is well aware that is not what I meant. Will consideration be given to moving from giving vouchers to those who engage in work in prison to giving them the value of the vouchers? As the Minister noted, some prisoners send money to family members outside the prison system. No one is suggesting prisoners be paid the same wage as employees outside the prison system. I simply ask that consideration be given to giving prisoners the monetary value of the vouchers.

I am giving consideration to the review that has been undertaken. In so far as there are changes to be made, they will be made appropriately. However, I do not envisage major changes and certainly not any changes that will result in any additional expense to taxpayers at a time when the funding available to the Government is extremely limited.

Prison Accommodation

Dessie Ellis

Question:

12 Deputy Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of times he has met with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to discuss the funding of the construction of the National Children’s Detention Facility, Oberstown, Lusk, County Dublin; if he will provide an update on these discussions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37918/11]

Brian Stanley

Question:

29 Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the date on which he will end completely the practice of imprisoning 16 and 17 years olds in St. Patrick’s Institution Dublin. [37916/11]

Dessie Ellis

Question:

43 Deputy Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the date on which construction work will begin on construction of the National Children’s Detention Facility, Oberstown, Lusk, County Dublin; the date on which the facility will open; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37917/11]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 12, 29 and 43 together.

The reply covers some of the ground we covered in an earlier question. As the Deputy may be aware, responsibility for the children detention schools under Part 10 of the Children Act 2001 will shortly transfer to my colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. Accordingly, both I and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs participated in a number of discussions at Cabinet level and bilaterally with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform on the capital expenditure proposals for our respective areas, including the proposed national children detention facility at Oberstown, in advance of the recent announcement of the Government's capital investment framework for the period 2012 to 2016. Ongoing contact also takes place at senior official level between our Departments on financial and budgetary matters, including the funding requirements for capital expenditure.

It was not, unfortunately, possible to include the Oberstown project in the recent list of projects covered by the Government capital investment framework. However, the Government remains committed to ending the use of St. Patrick's Institution for the detention of 16 and 17 year old males. To this end, the Irish Youth Justice Service has been tasked with progressing to completion during 2012 the design work and tender documentation for the Oberstown project. An assessment is being carried out of what financial and technical resources would be needed during 2012 to carry out this work.

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and I are in consultations with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform on the funding of the subsequent construction stage of the project. I do not propose to comment further on these consultations, except to say the Deputy can be assured that both the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and I will continue to make the case at Government level on the priority that should be given to the Oberstown project.

I am aware that responsibility for this matter is being transferred. Will the proposed new facilities include a unit to help treat children with severe behavioural problems?

This is one of the issues in relation to the design of the prison. It is a matter for consideration by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs in the work she is doing. I will certainly bring to the Minister's attention the Deputy's concerns in that regard.