Gardaí investigate incidents at Oberstown

A Garda investigation is under way into a series of incidents at Oberstown Child Detention School, which saw a staff member injured and part of the complex damaged by fire.

The incidents took place while staff at the centre were engaged in industrial action over concerns for their own safety.

Yesterday, Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone said she was awaiting a management report to see if the industrial action had an impact on emergency cover.

A number of detainees took control of a residential unit on Monday afternoon when a set of keys was taken from a staff member. The youths made their way to the roof where a fire broke out around 8pm. A Garda investigation is under way into the cause of the fire.

Asked if the concerns of staff, that Oberstown was dangerous, had been confirmed by Monday’s events, Ms Zappone said it “would be wrong to predict the answer to that question”.

Instead she called on all sides to “immediately commit to an intensified industrial relations process” because without Oberstown, the alternative would lead to “children in jail — that is completely unacceptable”, said Ms Zappone.

Last night, Oberstown director Pat Bergin said the unit damaged by fire would probably have to be demolished. He said another two units had been damaged internally and that the OPW was due on site today to assess the damage.

Mr Bergin called on unions to re-engage in the industrial relations process. He said Monday’s action meant just two staff were in a unit with five or six youths.

Mr Bergin said he has written to Impact outlining concerns about the measures put in place for last Monday’s industrial action. Further action is scheduled for next Monday.

Fianna Fáil children’s spokeswoman Anne Rabbitte said Oberstown is dysfunctional and called on the chair of the Oireachtas children’s committee to bring Ms Zappone and Mr Bergin before it to explain “why staff concerns are being glossed over”.

Both the Children’s Rights Alliance and EPIC said their key concern is the safety of young people.

Deirdre Malone, executive director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, said it is “unacceptable” that Oberstown management and the trade unions have not resolved workplace issues more than a year on.


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