The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) today welcomed the announcement by the Minister for Children of the Government's decision to build a national child detention facility that will house all child offenders. In particular, IPRT welcomes Minister Smith's commitment to prioritise the building of appropriate facilities for the 16- and 17- year old offenders who are currently housed in St. Patrick's Institution in contravention of international law. IPRT strongly hopes that today's announcement will make redundant the contingency plans of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to transfer child offenders to the new prison in Thornton Hall on the closure of St. Patrick's. Dr. Ursula Kilkelly, IPRT chairperson, stated:
"The detention of young offenders in an adult prison has been an ongoing blight on Ireland's human rights record. We strongly hope that today's announcement is indicative of a new level of commitment on the part of Government to take the rights of children in the justice system seriously."
IPRT particularly welcomes Minister Smith's indication that he is committed to a wide consultation with all stakeholders in the planning for the new facility. Dr. Kilkelly said that IPRT has already commissioned its own independent research on best international practice in the administration, conditions and regime of child detention facilities:
"IPRT is committed to participating constructively in any consultation around the plans for the new facility and we will be bringing forward proposals for the design and running of the new facility which, with the commitment of the Irish Youth Justice Service, we believe can be brought to the standards of international best practice."
However, IPRT retains concerns about the overall rate of detention of children in Ireland. Much remains to be done to ensure that children are diverted from the criminal justice system wherever possible. Dr. Kilkelly pointed out that the quality of detention facilities for children must be viewed in this context:
"The principle of detaining children as a last resort is enshrined in both the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and in the Children Act 2001. We continue to send far too many children into detention every year. For example, the high proportion of the children currently in St. Patrick's who are on remand indicates a serious failure to provide bail support to keep children out of prison. The Children Act 2001 provides a range of alternatives to custody, but more must be done to resource the Gardaí and the Probation Service to ensure that, wherever possible, children are diverted from the justice system."