Irish Penal Reform Trust

What would you do if you were President?

12th October 2011

This morning I attended the Barnardos' Presidential Debate – which turned out to be a fascinating and exciting morning (much better than the RTÉ and TV3 debates!) I went along partly to raise the issue of children still being detained in adult prison and those children in St. Patrick's Institution also being excluded from the complaints remit of the Ombudsman for Children. As it turned out I didn’t have to – the first question Olivia O’Leary directed to the panel was what they would do as President on the issue. The answers were encouraging and enlightening.

Michael D Higgins, who was only candidate to have raised the position of St. Patrick's in his introductory remarks, said he would make a priority of visiting children in prison to highlight the issue. 

Gay Mitchell said that he believed the President had a constitutional power to bring forward reports on key issues, and while he had identified suicide as his first priority, he was open to also issuing further reports in issues such as the detention of children.

Martin McGuinness responded to the question by referring more generally to the issue of vulnerable groups of children in society and his record in highlighting their rights and needs. He also spoke about his particular commitment to listening to the voice of children in developing policy.

Mary Davis made a point of stating that she had visited prisons – at which point all of the other candidates pointed out that they too had visited prisons.

David Norris linked the issue to the impact of bullying on children and how this can cause some to be drawn into the justice system. 

Sean Gallagher referred to his specific experience of working with children detained at the former detention centre at Finglas and their famiilies.

Dana was not present.

The overall debate was very stimulating and addressed a number of key issues including the proposed constitutional referendum on children rights, integration policy towards immigrant children, the impact of alcohol and drugs on children and specifically the impact of alcohol advertising, child protection and mental health. From an IPRT perspective, to see the ongoing use of St. Patrick's Institution to imprison boys aged 16 and 17 put centre-stage in the debate was highly significant, and further encourages us to make a final push to get Government to commit the resources to ensure the transfer of those boys held there to child detention schools as soon as possible.

Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.



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