There is a commitment in the Programme for Government to end the practice of detaining children in adult prison facilities, which under the Children Act 2001 means all young people up to the age of 18 years. I wish to assure the House that this will be at the top of my agenda, as it was for my predecessor. The transfer of responsibility for 16 year old boys has already taken place and this Programme for Government commitment will be met in full later this year when the extension of the Oberstown campus results in the transfer of responsibility for 17 year old boys from the adult prison system to the children detention schools.
Following the appointment of a main contractor and a number of sub-contractors, construction on the Oberstown development project started on site on 23 September 2013. The project will increase the number of children detention places available on the Oberstown campus to a total of 90 places and will enable the extension of the child care model of detention to all under 18 year olds ordered to be remanded or committed by the courts on criminal justice charges. The first 3 units of residential accommodation are scheduled to be delivered in the third quarter of this year, in order to facilitate the transfer of responsibility for 17 year old boys from the adult prison system. A further 3 residential units, to be delivered in 2015, will replace existing detention buildings used by Oberstown Boys School which have reached the end of their useful life. The Office of Public Works (OPW) is overseeing the delivery of the project with the contractor involved, BAM Building Ltd. I understand some weeks delay has been encountered in the construction programme due to weather and other issues but the OPW and my Department continue to emphasise the need to make up any time possible in order to meet the agreed project timeline for delivery of the first 3 units later this year.
While the operation of the adult prison system is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, there is of course a need for policy cooperation between our respective Departments in relation to issues affecting young offenders. In advance of the opening of the expanded Oberstown development, in December 2013 all sentenced 17 year old boys were transferred from St Patrick's Institution to a dedicated unit in Wheatfield on an interim basis. To facilitate this transfer, Wheatfield was re - designated as a Place of Detention. I understand that for legal reasons, all 17 year old remand prisoners continue to be detained at St Patrick's Institution. My predecessor visited the Wheatfield facility in February 2013 and while I do of course share the view that no child should be detained in the adult prison system, I am advised that to date, the transfer to Wheatfield has operated in a satisfactory manner.
In October 2013 a Working Group was established comprising representatives from my Department, the Department of Justice and Equality, the Irish Prison Service, the Children Detentions Schools, the Child and Family Agency and the Probation Service. The Working Group was asked to compile a report on all issues arising from the planned transfer of responsibility for detention of 17 year old males from the prison system to the Oberstown children detention school (CDS) campus. The position of 17 year olds on remand in St. Patrick's Institution and any options that should be considered in advance of the opening of the expanded Oberstown campus is currently one of the issues under review by the group. Legal advices sought by my Department on this issue are being considered at the moment. I expect the report from the Working Group with recommendations on how to proceed with the full transition of 17 year olds to the Oberstown Campus in the coming weeks.