Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 4 May 1995

Vol. 452 No. 4

Adjournment Debate. - Detention of Cork Minor.

I raise this issue to highlight a most urgent matter requiring immediate intervention by the Minister to provide accommodation for a 12-year-old Cork girl.

In Cork District Court yesterday it was revealed that this young girl cannot be held in detention by the Southern Health Board because the board does not have the power to do so. The Southern Health Board applied to the court yesterday to have an order, imposed on the board some time ago, to care for the child revoked. The board argued that, while it has always maintained this child, it appeared she needed more than they had power to offer her. In turn, the girl's solicitor argued that, although the board was unable to fulfil its function in regard to her, it was better than nothing and no other agency was prepared to intervene to help.

This girl has had a very traumatic background. It is an appalling indictment of the Government that its only response is one of inertia and paralysis. Judge Uinsin MacGruairc said that if there was a facility in Cork similar to the Oberstown Girls Centre, he would be able to fill it with five similar girls. He said this facility should be provided by the Department of Education and not by the Southern Health Board. I share the frustration and annoyance articulated by that judge who is accurate in his assessment of the need in Cork for the provision of a facility such as that at Oberstown to accommodate children in similar positions in Munster.

I am annoyed reading daily in newspapers complaints by judges about the lack of such facilities nationwide. Children with behavioural difficulties are very low indeed on the agenda of this Minister for Education. We hear of the establishment of task forces and of many committees but we want immediate action. Such a facility for young girls is urgently required in the Munster region. Many social workers have contacted me, complaining about the lack of such facilities for young girls in the southern region. The Southern Health Board has done everything possible to find suitable accommodation for this girl but without success. The judge requested the board's solicitor to contact Oberstown, to beseech the authorities to find a place for her.

In the short term it is my understanding that new places could be sanctioned in Oberstown. It is my hope that, in the case of this girl, a place will immediately be sanctioned. Furthermore, I hope a centre for such girls will be provided in the southern region without further delay.

The details of the case to which Deputy Martin refers came to my attention only today. I share his concern that appropriate accommodation be provided for the girl. I am having all the circumstances of her case urgently investigated.

I regret the highly political and tendentious nature of some of the Deputy's remarks. When he speaks about an appalling indictment of Government, I would remind him that is hardly a phrase one should use about a Government which came into office a mere five months ago.

The Minister for Education has been in office for three years; the Minister should not wash his hands of that.

The information at present available to me indicates that the girl in question was assessed at Oberstown Girls Centre early in 1993, having been referred there by the Southern Health Board on a voluntary basis for that purpose. I understand that the outcome of that assessment indicated that the girl was in need of long term residential placement, with psychiatric treatment, for which purpose it was recommended that she be made the subject to a fit person's order under the Southern Health Board. I understand that her case was raised in Cork District Court again on 25 May 1994, on which occasion the possibility of her placement in Oberstown Girls Centre was considered. However, on that occasion, it is my understanding that the Southern Health Board and the judge dealing with her case agreed that given her particular needs Oberstown Girls Centre did not represent a suitable long term placement for her.

I understand that the girl appeared in court on a larceny charge in September 1994 and was placed on remand at Oberstown Girls Centre from 7 September 1994 to 5 October 1994, at the end of which period the court ordered the girl's release and her return home. Furthermore, I understand that, subsequent to her release by the court, the girl was made the subject of a fit person's order early in 1995 and placed under the care of the Southern Health Board, which has and continues to make strenuous efforts to endeavour to meet her needs. I understand that fact has been acknowledged by the courts.

Deputy Martin will appreciate that I must await a report on the urgent inquiry I have initiated into this matter and that, pending its receipt, I am somewhat inhibited in commenting on detailed aspects of the case. While I am not yet in a position to comment on the accuracy or otherwise of press reports on this matter, I understand from such reports that the case of this girl was heard again yesterday at Cork District Court. According to these reports the judge dealing with her case directed the Southern Health Board to contact Oberstown Girls Centre with a view to seeking a long term placement. Furthermore, I understand that the judge adjourned the matter to 15 May 1995 and requested the presence of a representative of Oberstown Girls Centre in court on that occasion.

I understand also from the reports there was reference at yesterday's court hearing to the fact that the girl is due to face criminal charges on 15 May 1995. I am not in a position to comment on the accuracy or otherwise of this report. However, I should point out that a placement on Oberstown Girls Centre reformatory school can be provided only on the basis of a decision of the court to impose a custodial sentence, which sentence may be imposed when a juvenile is convicted of an offence which would result in imprisonment if committed by an adult.

The Deputy will appreciate that any such decision is entirely a matter for the courts and that I have no function in this regard. I can confirm that a representative of Oberstown Girls Centre will be present in court on 15 May 1995 and that, in the event of the court deciding on a referral to that centre at that time, the necessary arrangements will be made. In the meantime, I understand that the girl in question remains in the care of the Southern Health Board. I am at present making urgent inquiries into the provision currently being made and what, if any, additional measures might be taken.

I might also draw Deputy Martin's attention to my reply to Parliamentary Question No. 23 yesterday in which I outlined a range of measures being taken by the Department of Education and the relevant health authorities to increase the level of overall accommodation for male and female children in need of care or in conflict with the law. Consideration is at present being given to the detailed planning of these developments, focusing on these additional places. I consider that these measures being urgently pursued will make a major contribution to resolving present difficulties in relation to cases of this nature.