In dealing with this Adjournment matter the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has asked me to put his funding commitment to community-based projects at the centre of the debate. It has been said that the planned closure of Harristown House is linked to monetary issues alone. I, on behalf of the Minister, want to categorically reject that assertion.
The Minister's first priority is to ensure that his Department funds projects in the community that will add to the core work of the probation service and help its clients to better equip them for a life free from the crime patterns in which they have found themselves. To that end, significant funding has been provided in the past number of years, up from approximately €16 million in 2004 to over €21.5 million last year. This is a very significant financial commitment and represents 36% of the overall annual expenditure budget of the probation service for 2007. That fact speaks for itself.
The Minister is committed to continuing to fund such projects, thus providing more effective and efficient supports for clients of the probation service. Included in the funding provided by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, through the probation service, is money to help run three adult residential facilities catering for ex-offenders and the Harristown Residential Alcohol and Drug Treatment Centre. In association with the probation service, the Department commissioned a review of adult probation residential facilities in order to examine, inter alia, the management structure, overall governance and operation of these residential facilities and the role of the probation service. In addition, the review included an examination of the efficiency, effectiveness and value achieved from the funding. The report was completed at the end of July 2008.
Harristown House, located in the grounds of Castlerea Prison, County Roscommon formed part of the review and management; staff and clients all had an opportunity to feed in their views. As is normal practice, following the completion of the work a copy of the final report was made available by the probation service in September to each of the four facilities reviewed and each board of management was asked to examine the findings and the required actions needed.
The Harristown House project was established in 1998 and has been providing a short-term residential facility for persistent male offenders over 18 years of age, appearing before the court where alcohol is seen as a contributory factor in their behaviour. Harristown House has capacity for 12 residents at any given point in time. However, the house has never operated at full capacity. The maximum number of residents present at any point in time is usually eight but this can vary a little. The statistics for admissions to the house in the years 2005-07 show that there were 66 admitted in 2005, rising to 76 in 2006 and dropping back to 69 admissions in 2007.
The primary aim of the project has been to educate the participant on the effects of alcohol and drugs to enable them to become more law abiding. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is the sole funder of the project and has approved and provided current funding of €460,000 to the facility in 2008, by way of quarterly grants. In April of this year, the Department provided an additional €100,000 to clear a deficit incurred by the project. The project is operated by a board of management consisting of 12 volunteer members including a representative of the probation service and employs 22 people, eight in a full-time capacity and 14 part-time.
The report on the residential facilities provides the probation service and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform with a very valuable blueprint of how the four facilities are currently operating. The findings in respect of Harristown House give cause for concern and the continuation of the project in its current format is not feasible.
The overall conclusion of the report was that the centre is in crisis. There are serious indications in respect of human resources, finance and quality of service that the organisation has become dysfunctional. The results of this review indicate that the organisation is no longer viable. It would be remiss of any Minister to sweep away such concerns. While the probation service provides funds for the centre, the centre itself is a limited company controlled by its own board of management.
The board, by letter to the director of the probation service, dated 7 October 2008, advised that it was the unanimous view of the board that the facility should be closed. In that letter the chairman of the board stated:
Unfortunately, the Board of Management has been frustrated in attempting to resolve a growing range of serious difficulties which have emerged relating to the operation and management of this valuable facility. These difficulties have included the effective programme and facility management, limited programme participation levels, the absence of clarity and focus in programme direction and purpose and the funding difficulties arising as problems have remained unresolved. The Board of Management of Harristown House shares the concern outlined in the review that the facility is not fulfilling its stated aims and objectives.[...] It was the unanimous view of the Board that Option 2 of the Review Report is our preferred course of action, i.e. close down the facility, take time to reflect on the learning and develop a vision and plan for a new way forward for Harristown House.
The Minister and his Department share the concerns contained in the report and expressed by the board. In any event, the Minister does not have the power to overturn the decision of the board of management. The probation service will now work with the board of management to bring about an orderly closure of the project in its present form. The board has made its decision and it is the best decision in the circumstances. I want to place on the record the Minister's deep appreciation, and that of his Department and the probation service, of the work done by the board of management and its staff since the project opened its doors.
Further to the board's decision to close Harristown and following a request from the trade union IMPACT, a representative of the board met union officials and staff members on Tuesday, 28 October 2008 to discuss the proposed closure. The director of the probation service was present at that meeting.
The Minister is committed to finding the best option available to meet the addiction needs of the client group of the probation service. Funding will not be an issue. The current report, combined with other reports on this facility, gives a good basis upon which to make informed decisions that will ultimately lead to a better, more focused and tailored service to this particular client group. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the probation service are committed to working to achieve a viable alternative that will bring added value to the work of the service and, most importantly, better meet the range of needs of individual clients with addiction and other issues.
The probation service will now set about developing a detailed new vision for the Harristown House concept, including identifying the needs for addiction treatment places in this catchments area, seeking to develop sustainable partnerships to deliver the identified services. I reiterate that this is not a simple money exercise. It is a strategic review of services to a specific client group with particular needs so that the State can provide the most appropriate service to that grouping.
Additional Information not given on the floor of the House.
I hope the Deputy will agree that the State must at all times be mindful of the type and range of services we provide to key groupings, such as those with addiction issues. We must be willing to look critically at how we are providing those service and be prepared to examine, evaluate and if necessary start afresh in the knowledge that the service will be better able to meet the many complex needs which are part and parcel of our population.
Funding has been and will continue to be provided to projects which support the work of the probation service. This money will be provided based on the needs of the client group and on the understanding that the necessary experience and expertise is available to deliver the service so required. That is no more than the taxpayer expects from us.