Despite numerous assurances, health authorities have admitted there have been regular incidents at the units, which are housed at St Stephen’s Hospital in Glanmire, Co Cork.
In June 2000, the Southern Health Board denied girls were escaping from the Gleann Álainn unit. However, following concerns expressed by senior gardaí, they admitted a number of cases.
They confirmed a 16-year-old girl had been missing from the unit for more than three weeks and others had escaped for shorter periods after breaking security glass.
Gleann Álainn is a special care unit with a capacity for seven girls aged between 11 and 17.
Representatives of the local community association were assured security would be tightened when the boys’ unit, Ard Doire, was opened a few years later.
The high support unit for boys between 12 and 15 with specific care needs offers short to medium-term care for a maximum five boys. There are currently three boys in the unit.
However, it has emerged a number of boys escaped from the unit on Wednesday night and allegedly threatened and verbally abused a local man.
The Health Service Executive (Southern Area) childcare manager, Barry Murray, confirmed the incident had taken place.
“The situation is regrettable and every step will be taken to minimise the risk of this reoccurring by working with the staff and the children at risk,” he said.
The HSE also confirmed it is seeking planning permission for an extension to the Gleann Álainn unit.
The children sent to both special care units are wards of court or placed there through a High Court order. Many of them have behavioural difficulties.
Fine Gael spokesman on Justice, Jim O’Keeffe, said he would be raising the matter in the Dáil when it resumes business in late September.
“A very serious issue has arisen. It seems clear from the operation that there is a lack of proper resources provided by the Government. This issue has to be dealt with,” he said.