Wednesday 26 June 2019

Oberstown report not published due to legal concerns, minister says

Katherine Zappone said the review of the centre, commissioned in response to issues at the facility in 2016, presented ‘substantial legal risks’.

Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone (Niall Carson/PA)
Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone (Niall Carson/PA)

By Aoife Moore, Press Association

The Minister for Children’s decision not to publish a review into Oberstown children’s detention centre was based on legal advice from the Attorney General, a committee has heard.

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone said the publishing of the operational review of the children’s detention centre, commissioned in response to issues at the facility in 2016, presented “substantial legal risks” as individuals or bodies named in the report were not offered “right of reply” by the report’s authors.

A major fire causing three million euro worth of property damage, protests by youths, and strike action by staff over health and safety concerns during 2016 sparked a review into security, health and safety and behavioural management at the facility.

Professors Barry Goldson, a child law expert from the University of Liverpool, and Nick Hardwick, the former chair of the UK’s parole board, were commissioned to conduct the review of the Oberstown facility against international human rights standards.

The minister told the committee on Tuesday that there had been both legal advice from an independent legal office and the Attorney General before she decided not to publish the report.

Anne Rabbitte from Fianna Fail said she felt she was “operating in the dark” when reading the new recommendations for the facility as there was no context for where the recommendations came from without access to the report.

She added she had concerns over recommendations that females should not be kept in the centre, but could not properly enquire why without the report.

Likewise, fellow Fianna Fail TD Lisa Chambers added: “I share concerns about not publishing the report, what’s the point of the report if its not available? Even a redacted version?

“One of points made was that lessons wont be learned unless there is a full understanding of what happened in the past, if we don’t publish this report, how then do we learn the lessons? That’s the purpose of a report I would’ve thought.”

The minister replied that it was a great “disappointment to me that the report has not been published, but that is not to say lessons are not being learned”.

She added that even a redacted version “regrettably wouldn’t serve a meaningful purpose” due to the extent of the omissions.

Ms Zappone repeated on a number of occasions that the authors had gone outside the agreed terms of the report.

The minister added that an agreed action plan and time frame have been implemented based on some of the report’s recommendations, despite the decision not to publish.

A number of TDs said they had concerns that questions were going unanswered and would like to revisit the issue in the new year.

Press Association

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