Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Ceisteanna (104)

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

104. Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if he will provide an update on the Oberstown development, including from a construction, staffing and management perspective; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21038/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Children)

I seek an update from the Minister regarding the Oberstown development and the timeframe by which we will see the transfer of youth detainees at St. Patrick's Institution to the new facilities at Oberstown.

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 commitment under the programme for Government 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 the main contractor and a number of sub-contractors, construction on the Oberstown development project started on 23 September 2013. The project will increase the number of children detention places available on the campus to a total of 90 and will enable the extension of the child care model of detention to all under 18 years. The first three units of residential accommodation are scheduled to be delivered by the end of this year in order to facilitate the transfer of responsibility for 17 year old boys from the adult prison system. A further three 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 Limited. I understand there has been some weeks' delay in the construction programme due to weather and other issues but the OPW and the 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 three units by the end of this year.

This has been an issue of concern for all of us in the House going back some considerable period of time. I addressed it with the Minister's predecessor on a number of occasions and with the Ombudsman for Children when she attended a meeting of the Joint Committee on Health and Children. There were also statements in the Seanad on this matter. There is universal support for the project under way.

I understand building work on the new units is making good progress and there have been changes at organisation and personnel level. That said, there are reports - I would like the Minister to clarify these if he is in a position to do so - of a number of HR issues. The Minister indicated weather and other issues arose. It is the other issues I would like to explore. Are there HR issues still outstanding? I am not in a position to confirm but there are reports of an injunction against the Irish Youth Justice Service by the director of Trinity House.

Will the Minister please advise on the factual position in respect of same and discount it if this is not the case? Is it the case that because of this and other human resources issues, including the postponement of the recruitment of new staff, the scheduled opening of the new units in September 2013 is in some question?

On the HR issues to which the Deputy referred, a recruitment process carried out in late 2013 has resulted in the appointment of a campus manager for the Oberstown campus. The manager reports to the board of management and is responsible for driving the reforms that are taking place at Oberstown. I advise further that a care staff recruitment programme to meet the needs of the increased capacity in children detention places at Oberstown campus is under way in conjunction with the Public Appointments Service. I am advised that the first interviews are due to take place very soon and it is intended to deploy the new staff to Oberstown for training and orientation on a staged basis in the third quarter of this year. Consequently, construction, staffing and management development, together with overall business planning encompassing all aspects, are well advanced. The Deputy may wish to know I intend to visit the Oberstown site and campus tomorrow. He made some specific reference to issues, including court action. While I do not wish to comment on those at this stage, I undertake to the House to meet all the interested parties on site tomorrow morning with a view towards ensuring this development proceeds at the earliest possible opportunity and is on target for later this year.

At the outset, I welcome the speed of the Minister's intent with regard to a visit to the Oberstown works. I ask that he informs himself through inquiry as to the situation applying to the Irish Youth Justice Service, IYJS, and whether an injunction exists in that regard. Were the Minister to revert to me subsequently, I would welcome clarification on that matter. The Minister should reassure Members that the outstanding human resources issues - that particular matter aside - will be progressed with the necessary speed and that they will be looking forward to the commencement of occupancy and full utilisation of the facilities, as had been signalled, by September of this year. I would welcome the Minister coming back and reporting to Members, certainly directly to me, in the interim.

Will the Minister undertake to publish the McIlfatrick report? It may not be across the detail of this and the history in respect of same but were the Minister to inform himself and to consider so doing, it would be an appropriate step to take.

I undertake to have a look at the report to which the Deputy referred and, if appropriate, to take matters further. As Members will be aware and I am sure will agree, the ultimate goal is the creation of a single cohesive national detention facility on the Oberstown campus through the integration of the three children detention schools, CDS. As I stated earlier, I intend to visit the site tomorrow morning and will communicate the results of my visit to the Deputy and the House in early course.