Adjournment Debate: Loughan House.

Deputy Horgan has received permission to raise on the Adjournment the decision of the Minister for Education to certify the school at Loughan House under section 45 of the Children Act, 1908.

I am grateful to the chair for permission to raise this matter on the Adjournment. I am particularly grateful for the opportunity to raise it now because I have been attempting for quite some time, without success, to find out the extent to which the Minister for Education and his Department have been involved in the preparation and in the oversight of the establishment known as Loughan House. The Minister is rarely backward in coming forward with information when he believes it to be to his own advantage and there has been something strange, to say the least, about his silence to date on this matter. The certification of Loughan House, as I hope to argue, gives him a major role and poses a number of important questions which I should like answered. The notice that I refer to appeared in Iris Oifigiúil on Friday, 13 October 1978 and was as follows:

Certification of School under Section 45 (2) of the Children Act, 1908.

I, John P. Wilson, Minister for Education, under and in accordance with the provisions of Section 45 of the Children Act, 1908, and any and every other power me to enabling, do hereby certify that the school for the industrial training of youthful offenders in which youthful offenders are lodged, clothed and fed, as well as taught, known as Loughan House, and situated at Loughan in the County of Cavan, is fit for the reception of youthful offenders sent there in pursuance of Part IV of the Children Act, 1908.

Given under my official Seal this 4th day of October, 1978,

John P. Wilson,

Minister for Education.

The administrative consequences of this certification are very substantial and I hope to pose a number of concrete questions to the Minister. I accept fully that he may not be able to answer some of them immediately. I accept also that he may not have all the information immediately at his disposal and I should like to signify to him that I would be perfectly willing to accept from his Department in letter form at a later stage the answers to specific questions for which he may not have the information available immediately.

I shall refer to section 45 of the Children Act, 1908. In passing, I would add that it is nothing short of extraordinary that we should be dealing with an Act that is half a century old and which is long overdue for revision. The section states:

(1) The Secretary of State may upon the application of the managers of any reformatory or industrial school direct the chief inspector of reformatory and industrial schools hereinafter mentioned to examine into the condition and regulations of the school and its fitness for the reception of youthful offenders or children to be sent there under this Part of this Act, and to report to him thereon.

(2) The Secretary of State, if satisfied with the report of the inspector, may certify that the school is fit for the reception of youthful offenders or children to be sent there in pursuance of this Part of this Act.

One point that immediately occurs is that under another section of the same Act it is laid down that the minimum period for which any child or young person may be committed to such a school is two years, despite the recommendation in the Kennedy Report which suggested that the two-year period should be made a more flexible one.

The first question I should like to ask the Minister is, have the premises at Loughan House been inspected by his chief inspector? When did the inspection take place and when did the Minister decide on the basis of the report that the premises were suitable? I should also be interested to know what comparative standards were adopted by the inspector. We are dealing here with the first secure unit in this State and I hope that the Minister will be able to tell me that the standards the inspector found at Loughan House were, at the very least, the equivalent of standards to be found in a comparable institution in any neighbouring country.

The certification by the Minister is one of his functions under the various Acts dealing with children which started in 1908 and which go on at least as far as 1957. In particular, I would point to some of those functions as described in Appendix A of the Kennedy Report. Regulation Number 5 points out that the functions of the Minister include:

Making of regulations for the conduct of certified schools, in particular regulations making provision in relation to the education and training to be given to children there and the safeguarding of their health. These regulations may be framed so as to apply to one or more certified schools or any class or classes of schools.

I should like to know if such regulations have been made in regard to Loughan House and, if so, is the Minister prepared to make available in the Library a copy of the regulations. Number 11 of Appendix A points out that the functions of the Minister under the Children Act, 1908 include:

Transfer of a child from one Industrial School to another, or from a Reformatory to an Industrial School or from an Industrial to a Reformatory School.

Does this mean that a child or young person may be transferred to Loughan House from another institution without coming before the courts simply by order of the Department of Education? I should also like to refer the Minister to Appendix L of the Kennedy Report which is a transcript of the certificate of approval of an industrial school which was originally issued by the Chief Secretary of State but which is now issued by the Minister for Education or a duly authorised officer of his Department. There are particular aspects of the rules and regulations for the certified industrial schools on which I should like to ask some specific questions. The rules and regulations read:

1. Name and Object of School. Date of Certificate. Number for which Certified.—Accommodation is provided in this School for only ... children. This number shall not be exceeded at any one time.

Will the Minister tell us the number of children for whom Loughan House has been certified and can we have an assurance that this number will not be exceeded at any one time?

On the question of education, a number of provisions in these regulations have been made by the Minister for Education as a result of certification, in particular, numbers 7, 8 and 9. Some of them have a rather charming period flavour. For example, one provision states that the training of girls—this is not in question at Loughan House—"shall in all cases be in accordance with the Domestic Economy Syllabus, and shall also include, where practicable, the milking of cows". This dates the regulations somewhat and I wonder if the Minister has thought of updating them.

On the education side I should like to ask him the extent to which the educational provision in Loughan House matches or exceeds the minimum laid down in numbers 7, 8 and 9 of the regulations. In particular I should like to know if there is any provision for the continuance of the educational service in that establishment at times outside the normal school term.

Number 10 states:

The progress of the children in the Literary Classes of the Schools and their proficiency in Industrial Training will be tested from time to time by Examination and Inspection.

Will the Minister state what arrangements he is making for examinations and inspections in accordance with those rules? Regulation No. 12 refers to discipline and here I must draw the attention of the House to the fact that when I put down a question to the Minister for Education asking if corporal punishment would be permitted in Loughan House the question was transferred to the Minister for Justice who answered "No". I was delighted to hear that but I find it strange that the question should have been answered by the Minister for Justice because Regulation No. 12 states:

The Manager or his Deputy shall be authorised to punish the children detained in the School in case of misconduct.

My plain reading of that section is that authorisation is given by the Department of Education and that, consequently, they have the right to refuse to authorise any scheme of discipline with which they do not agree. I urge the Minister for Education to extend the logic of the situation at Loughan House to other industrial and reformatory schools and, indeed, to the education system as a whole.

In relation to these rules I would ask him to address himself to rule 26 and to give the House, if possible, the benefit of his view in that regard and to tell us what is this rule's possible effect in relation to Loughan House. Regulation 26 suggests that:

In order to ensure a strict and effectual observance of the provisions of the 66th Section of the Children Act of 1908, in every case in which a child shall be ordered to be detained in a School managed by persons of a different religious persuasion from that professed by the parents, or surviving parent, or (should that be unknown), by the guardians or guardian of such child ... the Manager or teachers of such School shall ... give notice in writing, without delay, to the Inspector who will thereupon immediately take any necessary steps in the matter.

That section was headed "Child not Professing Religious Persuasion of the Manager to be Removed from the School". In the event of such a situation arising, where is the child concerned to go? This is a very concrete point on which I should like the benefit of the Minister's experience.

I have asked the Minister already what will be the situation in relation to the educational provision outside the normal term time but there are two other questions also. One relates to the training of the non-academic teaching staff in the institution, a matter in which apparently the Minister has some role also and the other question relates to finance. The principal of Aycliffe School which is a secure unit in Britain, in an excellent article in the Children First Newsletter for summer and autumn 1978 goes into considerable detail about the critical importance of the training of staff of secure establishments. He says, and I quote:

The crucial prerequisite is the selection of the staff to ensure that they have the necessary characteristics of intelligence, compassion, maturity, tolerance, durability sensitivity and self-criticalness. Appropriate training would help to shape these. In the context of a publicly demonstrable empirical and operational model, these characteristics may then ensure that the children do not become the vehicles and the victims of staff defects.

Part of the rationale for the opening of Loughan House was that special attention would be given to the recruitment and training of staff other than the academic staff and that a 12-week course would be provided at the Sligo Regional Technical College which, indirectly, is under the control of the Minister for Education.

I should like the Minister to tell us first whether he believes that 12-weeks is long enough and also whether he is satisfied with the method of recruitment of additional staff. If these are to be part of a correctional institution with an academic background should not the Department of Education be involved more directly in the recruitment rather than simply having to train those recruited by the Department of Justice? Also, I should like to hear how the Minister proposes to rationalise the apparently widely differing provisions for the training of staff that exist at the moment. So far as I know there is, in addition to the proposed course at the Sligo Regional Technical College, a course in the School of Education at Kilkenny, which is also in receipt of public funds through the Department of Education. That is a good course. In addition there is a course at Cathal Brugha Street which is within the sphere of the City of Dublin VEC and which I understand is seriously in need of funding. Is the Minister prepared to think in terms of rationalising the situation and putting whatever scant resources are at his disposal to something worthwhile which will last for longer and which will be for the benefit of people who hopefully he, rather than the Department of Justice, will have chosen?

My final question concerns a matter that is referred to at page 84 of the Kennedy Report, where the section relating to the function of the Minister suggests that:

they include, subject to the approval of the Minister for Finance, fixing the amount of direct Government contribution towards the maintenance and education of children detained in these schools and with the consent also of the Minister for Local Government fixing the amounts payable by local authorities for children for whom they are liable.

What, then, are the financial implications for the Minister for Education in respect of his certification of this school? Will he be in a position of having to pay for a very vital and controversial establishment over which not he, but the Department of Justice, will have effective control and if that is the situation, should it not be changed also?

I am happy to have the opportunity of placing before the House information which will be by way of reply to the questions raised by Deputy Horgan. This information will deal in general with accommodation, with the history of the situation and with the circumstances leading to the opening of Loughan House. It will treat also of the question of the suitability of the educational programme which is being provided for those children who will be in temporary residence at that establishment for the coming two years or so.

The arrangements for the certification and management of what are known legally as reformatory schools are laid down in the Children Acts, 1908 to 1957. Under these Acts a reformatory school is defined as a school for the industrial training of youthful offenders, in which youthful offenders are lodged, clothed and fed as well as taught.

Part IV of the 1908 Act prescribes that the persons for the time being having the management or control of the school shall be deemed the managers thereof for the purpose of the Act.

Under section 45 of the Act, certification and inspection of the schools are functions of the Minister for Education. In accordance with that section the Minister may, on the application of the manager of any reformatory school, direct the Inspector of Reformatory and Industrial Schools to examine into the condition and regulations of the school and its fitness for the reception of youthful offenders to be sent there under that part of the Act and to report to him thereon. The Minister, if satisfied with the report of the inspector, may certify that the school is fit for the reception of youthful offenders to be sent there in pursuance of that part of the Act.

I am sorry if the nature of my language is such as to be in accordance with the presentation of Deputy Horgan's case but of its nature the language must be legalistic.

The procedures laid down in this section of the Act having been duly carried out, the Minister, on 4 October 1978, certified that the school known as Loughan House and situated at Loughan in the County of Cavan, is fit for the reception of youthful offenders sent there in pursuance of Part IV of the Act. By order of the Minister, a notice of the grant of a certificate to the school was published in the issue of Iris Oifigiúil dated Friday, 13 October 1978.

The opening of Loughan House as a reformatory school is a temporary expedient which will operate only until a new purpose-built secure school for young offenders is available at Lusk, County Dublin, in about two years' time. The task force on child care services in their interim report of September 1975 recommended the establishment under the Department of Education of a secure special school for 25 to 30 young offenders——

Under the Department of Education?

Yes—who were too unmanageable for the existing "open" residential schools. A similar recommendation had earlier been made by the interdepartmental committee on mentally ill and maladjusted persons, known as the Henchy Committee.

On assuming office last year, the Government decided that it was appropriate to implement these recommendations and a project team was set up in my Department to plan the new school. It became clear at an early stage that it would be a task of some complexity to design a building which would cater for the special educational and social needs of these young persons while at the same time satisfying the requirements of security. Public concern about juvenile crime and its consequences was such however that an interim emergency solution was deemed necessary to meet what we considered the crisis situation that had arisen in a number of areas. A search for suitable temporary premises in the Dublin area was carried out. In that search, in which I took a particular interest, all the buildings suitable for this purpose were examined. We consulted with the corporation, but unfortunately we were unable to find a suitable building. Accordingly, the Minister for Justice was approached. He arranged for the closing of a centre for offenders in the 16 to 21 age group at Loughan, County Cavan, and made the premises available as a temporary school for the purposes of Part IV of the Children Act, 1908.

Much has been said about Loughan House. I visited Loughan House and it is appropriate that I should say that it is a fine modern building. Standards of furnishing, equipment, decoration and repair have been maintained at a high level. An extensive scheme of adaptation and improvement has been carried out to render the premises suitable as a school for young persons in the 12 to 16 age group. It has 46 furnished and centrally heated spacious study-bedrooms with hot and cold water instal-led in every room. There is a chapel, dining-room, gymnasium-cum-cinema plus theatre, together with games rooms and a range of classrooms. There are also facilities for a wide range of outdoor recreational pursuits.

The County Cavan Vocational Education Committee have assigned eight teachers to Loughan House. The education programme will include remedial education to meet the boys' deficiencies in basic education, social education, general education at post-primary level, physical education and training in practical subjects such as woodwork, art and crafts and home economics.

There will also be an out-of-school programme for the boys, supervised by a care staff which at present numbers 40, half of them being women. All these staff have undergone an induction course in child care which included placement in one of the open special schools for offenders or in a school for the mentally handicapped or other institution for the care of young persons. These courses were planned and conducted in co-operation with the special education section of my Department and with the Department's child care adviser, who is also the inspector of reformatory and industrial schools. Further in-service training in child care will be given.

In addition, the Sligo Regional Technical College has made arrangements for a diploma course in child care to commence in January 1979 and the staff of Loughan House will be afforded facilities to attend this course. In addition to the care staff, two welfare officers are assigned full-time to Loughan and will work both with the boys themselves and with their parents. A full-time psychologist will also be employed and adequate medical, psychiatric and nursing services will be available.

In the light of the facts as I have given them, the Minister was quite satisfied that the school was fit for the reception of youthful offenders. As I have already explained however, Loughan House is only a short-term solution to one of the most difficult problems that at present confront our society. These young people unfortunately are unmanageable either within the community or in open schools. They disrupt the treatment of other children and are capable of acts of vandalism and violence normally associated with children of an older age. Since their parents have failed to control them, the State as the guardian of the common good has the constitutional obligation to supply the place of the parents by appropriate means.

I am glad to say that the planning of the proposed new school at Lusk is on schedule and will be available in two years' time. I would ask Deputy Horgan and any other Deputy who has an interest in this vital area not to accept that what has been done here needed a headline from any other country. What we are doing in this area will be a headline for other countries. We need not make apologies to anybody for the interest and care we are showing in this area and in our efforts to try to compensate for the care, love and affection which has been denied these children by their parents.

The Dáil adjourned at 5.30 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 7 November 1978.