A row over the chronic shortage of detention centre spaces for young offenders has intensified after a judge demanded immediate action from Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald to deal with the crisis.
Judge Ann Ryan said the “hands are tied” of the country’s juvenile courts as they are forced to let potentially dangerous youngsters back onto the streets while eight beds are left unused in a detention centre due to staffing problems.
She was told yesterday at the Dublin Children’s Court that there are 36 operational beds to hold boys aged under 17 at two facilities in north Dublin — Oberstown Boys Centre and Trinity House detention school — which are capacity-filled most days.
However, eight beds are not being used due to “staffing issues” resulting from the implementation of a new roster.
The judge criticised the minister, who was represented by two officials, and said: “Get eight beds open please… now.”
Michelle Shannon, the director of Irish Youth Justice Service, which is responsible for the detention centres, told Judge Ryan: “I want to assure you that the minister is trying to address the matter”.
“Long-term plans are in place to increase the capacity in Oberstown and meet the Government’s proposal for detention of 17-year-olds in Oberstown. The eight beds in Trinity House, the plan is that will be open as soon as possible.”
The issue arose in the ongoing case of a 16-year-old boy facing a litany of allegations, including heroin dealing. Gardaí wanted him held in custody for repeatedly breaking bail terms but, like a number of juvenile defendants in recent months, he was released because there was nowhere to hold him.
His life is under threat, the court has also heard. When the case was called yesterday morning, neither the boy nor his mother turned up and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest.
Later the boy was arrested and brought to the court when the judge was told he had continued to break his bail terms in the past week. Judge Ryan then ordered that he was to be remanded in custody until next Thursday, adding, “there is now a bed available, magically”.
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