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Dublin: 11 °C Tuesday 22 October, 2019
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Seven 'serious' assaults on staff at Oberstown children's detention centre last year

A senior union official has said the situation has improved considerably recently, but the numbers have been described as “deeply concerned”.

The centre in north Dublin
The centre in north Dublin
Image: Eamonn Farrell

THERE WERE SEVEN assaults on staff members at the Oberstown Detention Centre last year that could be considered “serious”, new statistics have revealed.

The latest figures have been described as “deeply concerning”, but a union official has said that, while it remains challenging, the situation on the ground has improved significantly in recent years.

The centre in Lusk, Co Dublin, is the national service for young people remanded in custody or sentenced by the courts for a period of detention, and has a capacity of 48 residents. 

Incidents that have taken place at the site in recent years includes a teenager who caused over €50,000 during four separate standoffs, the Garda Public Order Unit attending after two teenages boys “trashed” a metalwork room, and an 11-hour long “rampage” during which a roof was set on fire, and missiles were thrown at staff, gardaí and fire officers.

The new figures were released by Minister for Children Katherine Zappone following a series of parliamentary questions by Independents4Change TD Clare Daly. 

For the 12 months of January to December 2018, there were 25 incidents related to assaults on staff. In seven of these incidents, it resulted in lost staff days.

While there is no classification of serious assault officially recorded, in these seven incidents they “could be considered as serious assaults”. 

Separately, there were 103 incidents of injuries to staff members, Zappone confirmed.

Staff members were also threatened with a weapon on six occasions last year. 

Furthermore, as of 31 December 2018, there were 24 staff members on sick leave, two of whom were on sick leave related to an injury. 

Addressing an Oireachtas Committee in December, Minister Zappone said there was “real evidence of positive change in the day-to-day operations of the Oberstown campus”. 

The authors of a report into the operation of the centre told the same committee late last month that some practices in the care of children there were disturbing. 

The government has so far refused to publish the full report and Zappone said in December that she was told by the Attorney General that publishing it was “fraught with legal risk”. 

Daly told TheJournal.ie the figures given to her paint an alarming picture of events at the centre.

“The figures we received give the lie to the spin that Oberstown has turned a corner and all is now rosy and fine,” she said. 

103 injuries to staff in 2018 is an incredible figure, and the fact that some of the assaults on staff were so serious that those staff had to take time off work is really deeply concerning.

The Fórsa union’s assistant general secretary Ian McDonell, who works with members at Oberstown, said that the situation for workers has made great strides in recent years.

He told TheJournal.ie: “The working environment and overall safety of staff and residents at Oberstown has improved significantly since the 2016 dispute.

Fórsa has been pushing for an increase in staff towards the approved quota. Management at Oberstown campus has acknowledged this and recently confirmed the recruitment of further staff.

McDonell added that regular meetings take place between union members and management with the safety of staff and the young people on site a priority for both. 

This sense of improvement coincides with a decrease in the number of garda callouts to the centre in recent times.

In 2016, there were 30. This fell to 24 in 2017.

Nevertheless there were still 10 call outs last year and one already in 2019.

Daly added: “That gardaí had to be called to deal with incidents at the centre ten times over the same period shows that serious issues there are ongoing and need to be addressed.

Arguably there should never be a need for gardaí to be called to Oberstown. At the very least gardaí being called should be an absolutely exceptional event, but on the basis of these figures it’s something that happens almost monthly, including once already this year.

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Sean Murray

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