The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has today called on the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Oberstown Management and trade unions to resolve the industrial relations issues immediately in order to ensure that their collective duty to the children in their care is fulfilled. IPRT welcomes Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone TD's clear statement today (30th August 2016) that Ireland should not be a country which sends children to adult jails. However, intervention to ensure industrial relations issues do not undermine the care provided at Ireland's national children detention facility is now critically overdue.
IPRT was responding to incidents on Oberstown children detention campus that took place following scheduled industrial action yesterday, Monday 29th August 2016. During the industrial action, children were locked into their rooms for an extended period, following which a number of children accessed the roof and a fire was started. The facts of this incident must be established quickly and the outcome of any investigation must be published so that lessons may be learned.
Speaking this afternoon, IPRT Executive Director Deirdre Malone said:
"It is simply unacceptable that Oberstown Management and trade unions have still not resolved workplace issues more than a year on. IPRT has previously written to Minister Zappone since her appointment as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs underlining the serious risks that unresolved staff relations issues present to the safety of everyone at Oberstown. Industrial action cannot be permitted to place the care and welfare of the children and young people detained at Oberstown at risk."
"The law is clear: a prison environment is not appropriate for children aged under 18. Suggestions that young offenders aged under 18 should be dealt with by prison staff and not specialist residential care workers are simply wrong. Nevertheless, some of these young people exhibit highly challenging behaviours and it is essential that Oberstown is fully staffed and that staff are supported with the training and resources necessary to ensure that the State meets its duty of care to these children. If the State cannot meet its duty of care to children detained at Oberstown, then those children should be released into other child-centred settings. Under no circumstances should any child be transferred to St. Patrick's Institution or Wheatfield Place of Detention."
"IPRT acknowledges the actions of staff who left the picket line to assist with the unfolding situation, and prioritising the safety of the residents."
"IPRT urges all parties involved to work together to ensure this serious risk is resolved immediately, and that it does not delay the ending of imprisonment of children at Wheatfield Place of Detention."
IPRT has campaigned for the end of imprisonment of children in Ireland since the organisation was founded in 1994. The detention of children in the adult prison system has been a serious stain on Ireland’s human rights record, with St Patrick’s Institution receiving particularly damning reports over several decades. Today (30th August 2016) there are 9 boys aged seventeen detained under sentence in Wheatfield Place of Detention.
For further comment or an interview with IPRT Executive Director Deirdre Malone, contact: 087 181 2990
1. IPRT Statement on Ongoing Industrial Action at Oberstown
On Mon 28th August 2016, IPRT issued a brief statement on ongoing industrial action at the National Children Detention Facility at Oberstown, Lusk, Co. Dublin, highlighting the risks of escalation. See:http://www.iprt.ie/contents/2949
2. Ending imprisonment of children in Ireland
Ending the practice of sending children to St Patrick’s Institution was a key commitment included in the Programme for Government2011-2016. On 2nd April 2012, then Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (and current Minister for Justice and Equality) Mrs Frances Fitzgerald TD announced that €50 million had been secured to progress the building ofthe new national children detention facility at Oberstown, Lusk, Co. Dublin and thereby facilitate the transfer of under-18s from the adult prison system in Ireland. The building work was completed in autumn 2014. Since March 2015, under-18s can be remanded by the Courts to Oberstown.
3. Imprisonment of children in Wheatfield Place of Detention
On Tuesday 30th August, there were 9 boys aged 17 detained under sentence in Wheatfield Place of Detention, an adult prison environment, in breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the child:http://www.irishprisons.ie/wp-content/uploads/documents_pdf/30_August_2016.pdf
4. Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) is Ireland's leading non-governmental organisation campaigning for the rights of everyone in prison and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy, with prison as a last resort: www.iprt.ie