Irish Penal Reform Trust

Round Up: Oberstown Industrial Dispute

31st August 2016

[Updated 5th Sept 2016] 

Following on from the incidents which took place at Oberstown Child Detention School last Monday, 29 August, industrial action due to take place today, 5 September, has been postponed, with children attending school as per usual. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs have released a statement on this development, which may be read here

IPRT would like to echo the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone TD's welcome of the postponement of industrial action. Due to last week’s industrial action, children were confined to their cells from 9 pm on Sunday evening until 4 pm the following day.

Under no circumstances is this manner of confinement acceptable. It will have disastrous consequences for the care and welfare of children and threatens to further exacerbate the existing problems of the detained children by creating conditions of effective solitary confinement* and denying access to meaningful education and activities. 

In the interest of the safety, wellbeing, and rights of the child and addressing the risk of any future incidents, IPRT strongly urges all sides to resolve this dispute as quickly as possible and the State to provide adequate support to ensure that Oberstown Child Detention School campus is a safe environment for everyone.

In order to achieve a meaningful solution to the current industrial dispute, the views of all stakeholders must be heard. This is not limited to the staff and management of Oberstown, but includes the children themselves. IPRT strives to ensure that the needs of these children are recognised and that their rights are respected at all times. We welcome the attention the media can provide on a perspective that may be too easily forgotten or ignored.

From around the web

The following two articles highlight the concerns of the children resident in Oberstown:

In The Sunday Business Post, Elaine Byrne questions why thirty-eight vulnerable children spent nineteen hours in solitary confinement - 'Suffer the little children: the adults are fighting'

‘Using the word child to describe teenagers remanded in custody or sentenced to detention because of their criminality is a disagreeable task for many, particularly those affected by their behaviour. Understandable as that may be, the legal definition of child is anyone under 18 as per the Children’s Act 2001 and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.’-Elaine Byrne

Meanwhile, in The Irish Times, Breda O’Brien considers the failures in government policy that have deprived Oberstown residents of essential support to their development and maturity - Problems at Oberstown must be addressed

‘The young people who end up in Oberstown have already been failed in multiple ways, by families that do not function well, by communities, by the State and by cutbacks…Multiple levels of support, often including psychiatric support, are needed if that young person is ever to have any chance of functioning in society…Even better would be reducing the numbers ending up there in the first place. But that takes a mindset that values all our citizens equally.’-Breda O’Brien 

[Original piece posted 31st August found below]

On Monday 29 August, industrial action involving an eight-hour stoppage by staff at Oberstown Child Detention School took place, leaving residents confined to their rooms. During the stoppage, an incident occurred in which a number of residents climbed to the roof of a building and a fire broke out on the campus. Throughout the week IPRT has raised its concerns in response to the industrial action and the detrimental impact it may have on the children and young people detained in Oberstown.

IPRT wishes to be absolutely clear that we do not take any position on the dispute itself, which is a labour relations issue. Rather, it is concerned with respecting the rights of children and young people and ensuring their safety and well-being. It urges open dialogue between all parties concerned - staff, management, and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone - to ensure a swift resolution to concerns raised by staff regarding health and safety.

Read more:

Listen back:

  • Appearance by IPRT Executive Director, Deirdre Malone, on Morning Ireland, found here. (31 August 2016)

Find more views of key stakeholders on this dispute below:

*Solitary confinement is defined as being confined in isolation for 22 or more hours per day.

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