4th April 2012
Following more than 25 years of commitments by successive governments but little action, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald, yesterday announced concrete plans on bringing to an end the practice of detaining children in St Patrick's Institution, which is an adult prison.
This development has been welcomed by the Ombudsman for Children, the Irish Penal Reform Trust, Barnardos, the Children's Rights Alliance, Fr. Peter McVerry and the many, many other individuals and organisations who have long been campaigning for the immediate end to what has been a serious blot on Ireland's human rights record.
International pressure came from the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), the United Nations Committee against Torture, the European Committee on Social Rights, and by Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg.
The support of the media, in terms of maintaining attention on the issues, was also significant.
The Government has committed €50m for the building of six units, creating 30 new spaces, at Oberstown, Lusk, Co Dublin, where the three existing children detention schools are located.The building work is projected to be completed within 2 years. "The plan announced today is comprehensive and fully funded," according to the official statement.
Significantly, from 1st May 2012, all newly remanded or sentenced 16-year old boys will no longer be sent to St Patrick's Institution, but will be detained in the children detention schools. In her statement, Minister Fitzgerald underlined:
"This is a key investment in addressing the serious problems of Ireland’s most troubled teens. The path from St. Patrick’s Institution to Mountjoy Prison has been too well worn over the years. We must interrupt the predictable path of violence and crime and repeat offending progressing to further serious offending and committals in adult prisons. This development will allow us to place these young people in a secure environment that will offer them a second chance to be productive people who contribute to society.”
Minister Fitzgerald also highlighted that prison is an inappropriate environment for the rehabilitation of children and for addressing their complex needs. She stated:
"The proposed facility will also provide an opportunity for a new and innovative response to the needs of Ireland’s most troubled teens. For many of them youth offending is often simply the result of other underlying risk factors. Some of these young people will end-up in the care system, some in the youth justice system but up to now too many have simply fallen through the gaps in-between. I have asked my Department to examine further scope to achieve a shift towards a new joined-up approach to special care and youth justice services."
Read the reactions and media reports below.