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Sunday 17 December 2017

Strike threat still hanging over troubled Oberstown as review of centre delayed

The delay to a report on Oberstown has been criticised by Fianna Fail children’s spokesperson Anne Rabbitte
The delay to a report on Oberstown has been criticised by Fianna Fail children’s spokesperson Anne Rabbitte
Fianna Fail children’s spokesperson Anne Rabbitte

The threat of industrial action still looms at the country's only youth detention facility, despite the recent deferral of a proposed strike.

All-out industrial action was called off in December after trade unions secured an agreement for an independent review on the introduction of personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff based in the Lusk centre.

Impact national secretary Eamonn Donnelly last month said that the review would be carried out as a matter of "absolute priority", adding that it was expected to be completed this month.

However, a separate independent report on Oberstown has already been delayed and will not be made available for at least another month.

Review

In September of last year, Children's Minister Katherine Zappone commissioned an independent review of the Oberstown campus in Lusk, north Dublin.

Professor Barry Goldson, a youth justice expert from the University of Liverpool, and Professor Nick Hardwick, who is chair of the UK's parole board, visited the facility to speak with staff, detainees and management.

The independent report was commissioned after a number of high-profile incidents at the Oberstown detention centre, which included more than €1m worth of damage being caused after young offenders set fire to the facility.

It is understood that the report was to be released on December 20 and made available to members of the Dail's Committee on Children and Youth Affairs.

However, it is now not expected to be released until February 3, with the strike action initially planned for January 3.

Although the review has been completed, it is believed that it was not compiled in time for the pre-set date and will now not be ready until next month.

Disappointing

Fianna Fail children's spokesperson, Anne Rabbitte, described the delay in releasing the report as "disappointing", adding that the review could have been used in the negotiation process.

"There was no reason at all [for the delay], it's disappointing as it would have been something to have in negotiations to avert any strike action, it would have been a good tool to have there," Ms Rabbitte said.

"Nobody wants to see strike action and I didn't want to see it go down that route. During the last strike parts of the building were burnt down, it was shocking what happened there."

Ms Rabbitte also raised concerns about the suitability of infrastructure at the facility, with the doors only now being upgraded by the Office of Public Works (OPW).

"There is a huge challenge around the infrastructure of the building. In fairness to the board, they have highlighted how inadequate the infrastructure is and that a particular grade of door is needed to withstand certain challenges.

"They are only starting to get new doors now. Part of the frustration for staff is that, if something kicks off, the doors can't withstand a certain force, which makes a situation more difficult," Ms Rabbitte said.

It is hoped that the review into PPE will not be delayed, as happened with the independent report on the campus itself.

Staff have repeatedly raised serious concerns over their personal safety at the facility, which included the threat of being attacked with weapons by detainees.

Staff have previously been threatened with hammers, saws, knives, power drills, steel bars and boiling water.

Injuries

Concern has also been expressed over the intervention procedure implemented at the Lusk facility to restrain young offenders.

"Workers have no riot equipment and the restraint technique we use is called Mapa (Management of Actual or Potential Aggression), which is useless," a source said.

"It is only effective against small kids but, because of the PC brigade, staff are forced to use it.

"The prison service use C&R (Control and Restraint), which is more effective on males.

"There are so many injuries to staff because they are forced to use Mapa."

Currently there are 128 residential social care workers and 52 night supervising officers of 261 staff employed at the campus. This group provides 24 hour a day care to 40 young people.

The facility previously catered for 64 young people but was reduced following damage caused by detainees.

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