€5m centre for youths lies idle for seven years

THE Health Service Executive Mid-West was unable to say yesterday if a €5 million centre for disturbed youths, lying idle for nearly seven years, will open next month as planned.

The government had extended the deadline by three years to 2007 for the opening of Coovagh House due to problems recruiting staff.

The facility has been built in the grounds of St Joseph’s Hospital at Mulgrave Street, Limerick.

Coovagh House was built to cater for up to five troubled youths aged between 11 and 17. Annual running costs have been projected in the region of €2m or €400,000 per child.

Despite repeated calls yesterday to the HSE, a spokesman said he could not say when Coovagh House will open.

An initial recruitment campaign for staff in 2001 which cost the HSE more than €250,000 found only three of the 33 personnel needed.

And a renewed recruitment campaign last year costing almost €100,000 still could not come up with the necessary staff.

Coovagh house opened for a short period in 2003, but was forced to close again the following year due to staffing difficulties.

Coovagh House was one of three centres built on foot of a High Court ordered by Mr Justice Peter Kelly in response to their being no adequate place for disturbed teenagers in this country.

Two years ago the HSE said it was hoped that Coovagh House would be opened by September 2005. This deadline was then extended to this year.

Last December a spokesman for the HSE refused to say how many of the 33 staff had been recruited by then. The spokesman said: “The manager’s post has been filled. Interviews are scheduled for child care leaders and social care workers. We will not be in a position to give a breakdown of posts and numbers recruited until the current process has been completed.”

Fine Gael spokesman on family affairs, Dan Neville TD yesterday condemned the delay in opening the facility.

He said: “While the number of children who are due to be cared for at Coovagh House is small, they are nonetheless very disturbed young people in need of urgent attention from the State. There has been a tardiness into commissioning of this facility. Children are in deep crisis and this service was planned for them yeas ago.”

Mr Neville said promises given by the HSE had been taken at face value.

“But as promises have not been met, and one can lose confidence about the roll out of this service. It begs the question why a commitment has been made and nothing happens,” said Mr Neville.

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