Dáil Éireann - Volume 311 - 14 February, 1979

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Loughan House Maintenance Costs.

11. Mr. M.P. Murphy asked the Minister for Justice the cost per week of maintaining an inmate at Loughan House, County Cavan; if his attention has been drawn to press reports that 82 full-time staff and seven teachers were employed to provide custodial care for 17 boys; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. G. Collins: The estimated annual cost at present rates of running Loughan House is £443,000. The running costs would not vary significantly whether the number of boys was 20, as at present, or 40 or ten, and any attempt to calculate the cost per boy would not be meaningful. The press reports were based on the reply given by me on 31 January 1979 to a parliamentary question.

When I decided that something had to be done as soon as possible to provide secure and humane custody for boys who were committing serious offences with impunity in Dublin and elsewhere, I realised that such custody could be provided only by a heavy investment in staff. Many of these boys had literally been beyond any control and no school was able or willing to attempt to contain them. Apart from providing a building and surroundings from which they cannot easily escape, it was essential in my view to provide them with schooling and other instruction and to ensure as far as possible that they do not inflict injury on themselves or others or destroy property. Given the type of boy in question this objective can only be achieved by a high staff: boy ratio. A large amount of staff time consists of discussions between staff and boys both individually and in groups, and this appears to be having beneficial results.

When account is taken of annual leave, sick leave and rest days, the number of basic grade care staff on duty at any time ranges between 14 and 28 [1143] during the day and is down to four at night.

I am pleased to say that, while many of the boys were very difficult when first committed to Loughan, there has been significant improvement in the position, and it has been found possible, for example, to allow some of the boys accompanied outings to football matches and to films.

The staff number will be kept under review.

Mr. M.P. Murphy: Did I understand the Minister to say that the annual cost is estimated at £443,000?

Mr. G. Collins: That is correct.

Mr. M.P. Murphy: Am I to assume that the figure of 17 is the correct figure for the number in Loughan House?

Mr. G. Collins: No, the Deputy should not assume that.

Mr. M.P. Murphy: What is the correct figure?

Mr. G. Collins: I told the Deputy in the reply that 20 is the present population.

Mr. M.P. Murphy: Twenty being the present population and 17 having been the population a short time ago, am I to assume that the average cost of maintaining a pupil there is more than £20,000? At the figure of 20 it would be more than £20,000; and approximate figure would be from £20,000 to £22,000 because the number varies from 17 to 20. Are the press reports factual that the staff numbers laid down are 82 permanent staff and seven teachers on a part-time basis? That makes a total of 89. Is it correct to say that the average cost of maintaining a boy in the school at present is around the £22,000 per annum figure? Also, are the press reports referred to in the question factual, that there are 82 permanent staff together with seven part-time teachers to care for, manage and provide education for the 17 to 20 boys in the school?

[1144] Mr. G. Collins: I should like to repeat for the Deputy part of the answer I gave him initially that he might not have heard. I realised that the custody of these young persons could be provided only by a heavy investment in staff. Many of these boys had been literally beyond any control, and no school was able or willing to attempt to contain them. Apart from providing a building and surroundings from which they cannot easily escape, it was essential to provide them with schooling and other instruction to ensure that as far as possible they would not inflict injury on themselves or others or destroy property. Bearing all that in mind this objective can be achieved only by a high staff to boy ratio, I went on and explained to the Deputy why that was necessary. I went further and said to the Deputy that when account is taken of annual leave, of rest days or whatever leave is normally taken by staff such as this, the number of basic grade care stuff on duty at any time ranges between 14 and 28 during the day and is down to four at night time. In the earlier part of my reply to the Deputy I said that the cost was as he stated in his supplementary question but that the same cost would be involved if we had twice the number of persons in Loughan House as we have at present.

Mr. M.P. Murphy: Am I correct in assuming from the Minister's statement that the ratio of wardens, or however one terms the officers attached to Loughan House, is five to one? Am I correct in saying that it takes five employees to cater for each boy, that that is the present ratio? It is amazing in respect of a boy of less than 17 years that the State must pay five employees——

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is making lengthy speeches. Question No. 12.

Mr. M.P. Murphy: It is correct that the State must maintain five employees to cater for each boy in Loughan House at a cost of £22,000 per annum?

Mr. G. Collins: The Deputy is way off beam and still seemingly does not understand [1145] the content of my original reply to his question.

Mr. Harte: If the approximate cost of maintaining a boy per week is a round figure of £500 would he give consideration to keeping some of these boys—who could be kept at home—at home? Does the Minister consider that that amount of money spent on care of a boy while keeping him in his own home might be more beneficial?

Mr. G. Collins: The information I have in regard to costs for which I was asked, and which I have given, has been fully explained by me in the course of the fairly long reply I gave to Deputy M.P. Murphy who tabled the question.

Mr. M.P. Murphy: Will the Minister give an assurance that these figures will be reviewed? Are we not all mad employing 89 staff members to look after 17 boys at a cost of——

An Ceann Comhairle: We have had quite a few supplementaries. Question No. 12.

Mr. G. Collins: The Deputy still misreads the situation. Perhaps he should wait until such time as the reply is available in print when he might then understand it.

Mr. M.P. Murphy: The Minister's only excuse is that if the figures went up to 40 the cost would not be that much more.

Mr. Harte: Might I be allowed to acknowledge that I know the Minister would be sympathetic to this but would the Minister not consider that it would be in the better interest of any boy to be kept either in his own home or in surroundings closely resembling the conditions of his own home than in an institution? If the amount of money it is now costing to keep them in an institution was spent on boys' surroundings approximating to those of their own homes, would the Minister not consider that to be a better investment? If the Minister would consider it to be a better investment would he not then consider [1146] setting up some type of project that might prove the point?

Mr. G. Collins: It had best be known that I accept the Deputy's supplementary question as a loaded one, the type of question I cannot win by answering one way or the other. It is like the question: Have I stopped beating my wife? If the Deputy wishes to have a full discussion on this matter he knows there are other channels through which it can be done.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Might I ask one final supplementary?

An Ceann Comhairle: There will be no more supplementary questions. Question No. 12.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Might I ask the Minister how far advanced he is in his steps to build a new institution so that Loughan House will become obsolete?

Mr. G. Collins: May I say finally in reply to Deputy O'Keeffe in this matter that that question is one, as he knows full well, for the Minister for Education or the Minister of State in that Department. If the Deputy wants that information he will get it by tabling a question to the Minister for Education.

Mr. O'Keeffe: The Minister is either unable or unwilling to answer the question.

Mr. G. Collins: I am not unable; I have respect for the House and the way it should operate and so should the Deputy.

Mr. Harte: I did not accuse the Minister of wife-beating, whatever else I might accuse him of.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is seeking to make a farce of questioning.

Mr. G. Collins: I will explain that to the Deputy some time.