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Sunday Independent: Juvenile Detention Centre Plans Shelved as Funds Fall

29th March 2010

UPDATE: Deputy Andrews Responds

By Daniel McConnell, writing in The Sunday Independent on March 28th 2010. 

Plans to build a new national juvenile detention centre at Oberstown near Lusk, Co. Dublin, are to be dropped because of a lack of funds to build it, the Sunday Independent has learned.

The centre, which was to replace to the "dangerously inadequate" St Patrick's Institution which is also in Dublin, has had its construction commencement date repeatedly pushed back and senior Government sources last night admitted that the chances of the project going ahead are now virtually nil.

There are grave concerns about the current conditions for young offenders at St Patrick's, which is in breach of the European Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Construction on the new centre for young offenders was due to begin this year, but that date has been repeatedly pushed back.

According to new documents from Minister for Children Barry Andrews's office, there is no final completion date for the project and, at best, all they could offer was a proposed completion date of mid-2013 for phase one.

The "tendering for the construction of the new facilities will be subject to Government approval and to the necessary funding being made available," the document said.

"The money just simply isn't there. Given the state of the public finances and the €1bn reduction in capital spending this year by the government, there is little or no chance of this thing going ahead as things stand," a Government source said.

Fine Gael TD Joe Carey said it is devastating that this project now appears to be in jeopardy.

"The current manner in which we deal with and detain juvenile offenders is wholly unacceptable. St Patrick's Institution is dangerously inadequate. It has a recidivism rate of almost 80 per cent and nearly 50 per cent of the population cannot read or write.

"In 2008, only 28 per cent of the 216 residents were participating in formal classes.

"There clearly needs to be a stronger emphasis on rehabilitation which cannot be delivered in a building such as St Patrick's Institution," he said.

"Given the Government's record on the Thornton Hall site, the latest commitment has little credibility.

"In the meantime, the detention of young Irish offenders remains in direct contravention of the European Convention on the Rights of the Child.

"There are now serious question marks over the government's commitment to the building of this facility and the proper treatment of juvenile offenders," he added.

Last July, plans to build a new central mental hospital at Thornton Hall, where a new jail was also being planned, were abandoned.

Junior Minister for Health John Maloney told the Dail that some difficulties with Thornton Hall had emerged.

The Health Service Executive had identified the need for two additional units that had to go with the central mental hospital and the site was not big enough to house them.

Mr Maloney said he was now seeking an alternative site for the central mental hospital. Labour's Jan O'Sullivan welcomed what she said was a "clever U-turn". She asked how it was that these new units would not fit in the site -- after TDs had been brought out to view Thornton Hall.

Mr Maloney denied this was a U-turn. He confirmed that the new hospital would not be built in Dundrum, the site of the present hospital.

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