Zappone defends Oberstown following disturbances and fire

Minister orders report on ‘terribly upsetting’ incidents at youth detention campus

Residents on the roof at the Oberstown Detention Campus in  Dublin. Photograph:  Gareth Chaney Collins

Residents on the roof at the Oberstown Detention Campus in Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs has defended the Oberstown youth detention campus, saying it is fit for purpose after residents climbed onto the roof during disturbances.

Katherine Zappone said the incidents on Monday were “terribly upsetting” and said she is seeking an “urgent” report from management on how the teenagers got out of their rooms.

The episode began on Monday afternoon when some of the 38 children escaped from their rooms, where they had been detained by the remaining staff members as their colleagues protested outside in relation to an industrial dispute.

The children then gained access to the facility’s roof where a large fire later broke out, and emergency services, including members of the Garda’s Emergency Response Unit, had to be called in.

“The Oberstown campus is in the process of transition… it is terribly upsetting what has gone on but I do believe that in terms of what I witnessed there that we will move to a better future,” said the minister.

“Yes, it is true [that] over the course of the last couple of years there have been some difficulties that have emerged but those, I think, are being looked after. I do believe that [Oberstown]is fit for purpose,” she added.

Ms Zappone revealed that staff did not call gardaí for assistance until a number of hours after the children had escaped from their rooms, despite there only being minimal cover on campus due to the strike.

She said those who scaled the roof had been “locked up for at least four hours knowing that they were going to be there for another couple of hours”.

The Minister refused to criticise safety and security arrangements at the centre during the work stoppage and said she is awaiting the outcome of a report from Oberstown director Pat Bergin before commenting further.

She extended her sympathies to a member of staff who was injured during the disturbances, but said she could not give an update on his condition or that of the fire-damaged section of the facility.

‘Appropriate response’

“My understanding is the injury was not as a result of a direct assault. I am looking forward to hearing that he will eventually be okay,” she said.

The Minister denied suggestions that gardaí had been heavy-handed when dealing with the disorder and praised them for their “appropriate” response.

The disturbance was the latest in a litany of security breaches which have happened at Oberstown over the last year, including multiple breakouts by inmates and repeated reports of injuries caused to staff while performing their duties.

Staff represented by the Siptu and Impact trade unions have lodged repeated complaints about their working conditions, and are scheduled to engage in further industrial relations action on September 5th, 12th and 19th.

Ms Zappone urged management, staff and unions to resume talks which had earlier broken down.

Meanwhile, Labour Party spokeswoman for children and youth affairs Jan O’Sullivan has called on the Minister to personally intervene in discussions between the two parties, and she commended members of staff who left the picket line to help their colleagues.

“At this stage it is not good enough for Minister Zappone to step back from an escalating situation and merely suggest that all should be fine in the world.

“The risks to all of those at Oberstown from such demonstrations and the setting of fires are simply life-threatening. A hands-off approach from the Minister isn’t good enough anymore,” she said.