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Sunday 19 November 2017

Staff injured as violence flares at Oberstown

Expert review: Children's Minister Katherine Zappone Photo: Colin O'Riordan
Expert review: Children's Minister Katherine Zappone Photo: Colin O'Riordan
Jim Cusack

Jim Cusack

Inspectors from England were present during the latest outbreak of violence at the Oberstown detention centre in north Dublin during which a member of staff was seriously injured.

Two members of staff were taken to hospital during the day-long episode of damage and violence at the centre. A male and female member of staff were injured and the man was detained in hospital overnight with head injuries.

There has been no let-up in the violence and disorder at the State's only detention centre for children under the age of 18 since the closure of St Patrick's juvenile prison in the Mountjoy complex in Dublin two years ago.

During the past two weeks, while independent inspectors have been investigating the running of the centre, there were a series of violent incidents, staff said.

One 'troubled' young inmate apparently tried to commit suicide and another, who has been persistently violent and troublesome, got hold of a metal bar and began threatening staff. It is understood that staff were forced to use a mattress in an attempt to corral the young man.

Further damage is believed to have been caused to one of the remaining units at the site. One was burned to the ground in the summer during a break-out attempt, with two others extensively damaged.

The two independent inspectors are understood to have been on the 'campus' during the latest violence but did not directly witness it.

Last September, in the face of increasing violence and damage at Oberstown, Children's Minister Katherine Zappone commissioned a review by two outside experts.

She appointed Professor Barry Goldson, a child law expert from the University of Liverpool, and Professor Nicholas Hardwick, who is chair of the UK's Parole Board, to visit the centre and report their findings by next month.

Despite Zappone's insistence that Oberstown is "fit for purpose", there are now questions over the actual design and construction of the centre.

The new 'Oberstown Campus' was built quickly to replace the old Trinity House borstal for boys and girls.

One member of staff said that while the building was fine for normal hostel accommodation, it was "more like a hotel building than a place to detain anyone, particularly not the big strong young fellas we have".

The source said that in several instances, youths had been able to break through partitions and hatches and pull out metal joists and rods which were then used as weapons against staff and other inmates.

"The build is wrong," the staff member said. "There are only three units functional now and the way things are going, the place is being gradually demolished. They're literally pulling it apart.

"The build is closer to what you would see in a hotel than in a prison.

"We've had the former governors of Mountjoy, Portlaoise and Wheatfield [prison in Dublin] to advise on security but as they pointed out to us, if you go down the way of wanting staff to have security equipment then you have to train them how to use it and that is a whole new ball game. I don't think anyone wants to go down that route.

"The way things were with six lads to a unit was just about manageable. You could do rehab work and get them into education and training. But since they went up to eight lads per unit it has become unmanageable and you are just working to keep order all the time instead of helping the kids."

People living in the Rush and Lusk areas adjoining the juvenile detention centre have complained to local politicians about the new complex, worried that there will be break-outs or possible hostage situations, one employee said.

Local garda resources have also been depleted, with only one squad car generally on duty most nights to cover the area of north county Dublin around Balbriggan.

Sunday Independent

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