The institutions for young offenders operated by the Department of Justice cater for male young offenders aged 16 years and over the female offenders aged 17 years and over. In addition, young offenders aged 15 and 16 may be committed to prison in accordance with the provisions of Sections 97 and 102 of the Children Act, 1908.
While it would not be appropriate for me to go into details on the circumstances of an individual case, it is, I feel, understandable, in view of concerns which have been widely expressed, that Senators would expect that I should comment generally on the subject of detention facilities for young girls coming before the courts, where the court considers that a girl should be securely detained, though not in prison.
Many of the comments reportedly made on the subject in recent days have focused the issue that no secure unit is available for young girls similar to that provided by the Department of Education for young boys at Trinity House. The lack of this facility was considered by the interdepartmental group on the administration of justice and their report, which I expect will be submitted to Government in the coming week, makes a recommendation that such a facility should be made available as soon as possible.
I can announce here and now that the Government, in advance of consideration of the full report, have given approval for the provision, as a matter of urgency, of a special centre for 20 to 25 girls which will, (a) take up to eight girls for remand and assessment; (b) provide long-stay accommodation for 12 girls, and (c) contain a small number of places (not more than five) for secure use if, and, as needed.
Acquisition of the necessary site and planning work will commence immediately and building will be put in hand at the earliest possible date.
The point may, of course, be made that this issue has been around for some time and has been the subject of detailed consideration by various groups in the past. That is certainly true. However, I am not sure that it would be in any way helpful, now, if I were to proceed to outline what has been said by these groups on the subject of departmental responsibility. I consider it best that I simply acknowledge that the matter of departmental responsibility clearly must be settled once and for all and that this should be done without delay. The process of doing so is well under way.
It is only fair, however, that I should point out that where difference of opinion exists on the subject of departmental responsibility, these differences are not, as some have suggested, simply a matter of buck-passing. There are genuine differences of opinion among the many professional, administrative, social and care agencies who have responsibility in this area as to whether provision for children who find themselves in difficulty with the law should be made within an educational, health, or law and order setting, nor is it simply a matter of interpreting existing legal provisions on the subject.
These provisions are not exactly clearcut and different interpretations are possible. In my view, the core issue is what type of setting best meets the needs of the difficult child in each particular set of circumstances and the understandable concerns of the community in general about such children. Facilities are necessary to cater for a wide variety of different cases and, as I have said, steps have now been taken to fill a very long existing deficiency in the system.
With regard to the need for interim arrangements to deal with the particular case which has been the subject of publicity, the position is that the resolution of that case is now a matter for the court and the assessment as to what interim arrangements will provide a basis for its satisfactory resolution is obviously a matter for the court. Discussions are taking place between officials of the Departments of Justice, Health and Education as to what options may be open and the intention is that the health board representatives will advise the court, without delay, as to what arrangements are possible.