Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Questions (625)

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin


625. Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs in view of the recent annual report from the Ombudsman for Children, the current capacity, work and accommodation conditions at Trinity House, Oberstown boys and Oberstown girls schools; the implementation of the new working roster and the implications of same for staff and for children; the date on which the investigation (details supplied) will be published; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32181/13]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

I note that the Ombudsman for Children’s Annual Report 2012 refers to two main areas in relation to the detention of children. First of all, the Ombudsman outlines issues experienced by her office in dealing with complaints relating to St Patrick’s Institution. The points made in relation to the procedure for handling complaints from children in St Patrick's Institution are a matter for the Irish Prison Service in the first instance.

The second issue mentioned by the Ombudsman’s annual report relates to her concern that progress is made with the Oberstown capital project, which is to expand the detention places and facilities on the Oberstown campus. This project is required in order to give effect to the Programme for Government commitment to end the practice of detaining children in adult prison facilities. I have outlined my commitment to this project on many different occasions and it remains at the top of my agenda.

To date, I have put in place the required funding package for the project and my officials have, in conjunction with the Office of Public Works, completed the design process and secured planning permission for the proposed development. The tender process is ongoing at present and this is being overseen by a steering group of officials from my Department and the Office of Public Works. A further announcement on the outcome of the tendering process will be made shortly.

There is legal provision under the Children Act 2001 for 24 male bed spaces in Trinity House School, 8 female bed spaces in Oberstown Girls School, and 20 male bed spaces in Oberstown Boys School. However, only 16 of the certified 24 male bed spaces in Trinity House School are currently available for use due to staffing shortages. The Irish Youth Justice Service, which is based in my Department, is currently in discussions with management and staff on the Oberstown campus on an initiative to reorganise the detention capacity for males and female bed places, in order to meet the increased demand for male bed places from the courts. This is being progressed at present.

Work and accommodation conditions on the Oberstown campus are governed by a range of criteria, legislation and operational policies. The campus is subject to inspection by the Health Information and Quality Authority. The campus is also under the remit of the Ombudsman for Children and is periodically reviewed by international organisations such as the Council of Europe. The campus is subject to a range of care policies which are communicated to staff and management and published on the website of the Irish Youth Justice Service.

The new campus staffing roster was implemented on 25 February 2013 following protracted negotiation and agreement between staff and management at the Labour Relations Commission. The operation of the campus roster is currently the subject of discussions between management and staff representatives, in line with the provisions of the LRC agreement. An independent review of the operation of the roster is to commence shortly. This is the first time all care staff on the campus are operating under a set of harmonised conditions for hours worked, taking of breaks and flexibility of staff deployment between each of the three children detention schools. I wish to acknowledge the cooperation of staff with the implementation of the LRC agreement to date.

A number of issues have been the subject of consideration in conjunction with implementation of the campus wide roster, such as the need to ensure that all certified bed capacity is available for use, training needs, harmonisation of care procedures, clarification of procedures for the taking of breaks and the interpretation of the agreement provisions on flexibility of deployment. These are being addressed as part of the ongoing industrial relations process on the campus. Further discussions are also likely on the issue of how the Haddington Road Agreement provisions for working hours will be incorporated into the campus roster.