Dáil Éireann - Volume 556 - 07 November, 2002

Adjournment Debate. - Probation and Welfare Service.

  Mr. Broughan: Donaghmede parish and the constituency of Dublin North-East are supportive of the probation and welfare service and recognise the great, valuable work it has done in recent decades. We also recognise the necessary conditions required to implement the Children Act, 2001, particularly regarding its emphasis on parental responsibility and meetings between the perpetrators of crime and their victims. As a director of northside partnership, I have been heavily involved over the past 18 months to two [1304] years in linking up with the connect programme to train and place ex-offenders who form one of our four key target groups in the Dublin North-East and Dublin North-Central constituencies. That programme presents real problems for the partnership's staff which we on the board discussed at length.

  The major concern in Donaghmede and surrounding parishes, such as Ayrfield and Baldoyle, is that no consultation took place regarding this proposal among the community, their representatives and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The only planning notice was a small reference to new windows and doors at the shopping centre in Donaghmede. Where Donaghmede has been consulted in the past, as was the case with the Northern Area Health Board in relation to homes for vulnerable youngsters, the response has been generous, but in this case there was no consultation before the general election and little since with Deputy McDowell.

  The key problems residents have identified at two huge meetings at Holy Trinity sports and leisure club and at Holy Trinity parish church a few days ago relate to the location of the proposed regional centre and its sheer size. At the meetings local women and families expressed concern at the placing of this centre in an enclosed shopping centre whereas around the city and country other major probation centres are based on the high street or in security or industrial areas. There was a major concern in relation to Donaghmede shopping centre in particular because Kay's Kitchen restaurant, which is run by our esteemed business people, Bert and Barney Glover, is the nearest we have to a main street in the parish and fears were expressed about the kind of things that could develop there.

  There has long been concern about the running of the shopping centre and people have asked why demands over the last two decades for a Garda station for the parish and its environs have not been met. There are no other information offices of any kind in the area, yet this major proposal for a regional centre has been put forward. There is concern about the size of a regional office which is to cover the north inner city, the Minister of State's constituency, my Dublin North-East Dublin constituency and the constituency of Dublin North. Constituents want to know why there was not liaison throughout the area with regard to centres for Swords, Malahide and Portmarnock, Donaghmede, Clontarf and for the north inner city. Why are the provisions being centred in Donaghmede, which is missing vital support services?

  We welcome the briefing that Ms Ailish Glennon and her staff gave to us at our parish church during which they courageously set forth what they wanted to do, but major concerns have been expressed regarding issues people wanted to put. My experience is that ex-offenders are div[1305] ided into three categories of low, medium and high risk and we in the northside partnership job placement centre were advised by the probation service to deal mainly with those in the first category. We have had no information, advice or consultation in relation to those matters on this occasion. Donaghmede, Ayrfield, Raheny and Baldoyle parishes are quite prepared to deal with our problem children and people who have strayed for what ever reason and to integrate them back into the community. However, there is concern about the basing of a huge regional office like this in one parish and in an enclosed shopping centre.

  I understand that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has met resident groups from the Donaghmede, Grange Abbey, Donahies, Clare Hall and Grangemore estates over recent months and there will be a 12 month review period and a review committee. However, the concern remains and people feel they are being treated like children. If there had been an up-front local proposal, the Minister of State would have found that people dealt with it generously, but our constituents do not like being treated like fools.

  Mr. Callely: I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. In the light of the manner in which he raised it and what he said, it strikes me that there is room for improvement in planning services of this nature.

  On behalf of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I welcome the opportunity to clarify the position on the proposals to locate a probation and welfare service local office in Donaghmede Shopping Centre. The probation and welfare service nationwide has been implementing a policy of localisation of its offices in recent years. In Dublin the service has been successful in establishing offices in Dún Laoghaire, Ballyfermot, Tallaght, Finglas, Crumlin and Clondalkin. These offices are sited in local communities, alongside businesses, over shops and within industrial units. No complaint has been received by the probation and welfare service to date from any member of the public about the behaviour of those attending a local office nor has any complaint been brought to the attention of any officer of the service about the behaviour of those attending a local office.

  The premises at Donaghmede Shopping Centre were identified by the probation and welfare service and the Office of Public Works as being suitable for a probation and welfare service local office. This facility is necessary to serve the needs of Donaghmede and surrounding areas as well as for the delivery of the new obligations on the probation and welfare service for family conferencing under the recently passed Children Act, 2001. Following a lease agreement with the owners of Donaghmede Shopping Centre, planning per[1306] mission was sought and obtained earlier this year to adapt the premises to service the needs of the probation and welfare service. It is envisaged that, in time, an office may also be located in north east Dublin to cover the Swords area which is rapidly expanding.

  The probation and welfare service, for the most part, will deal with those attending the office on an appointment only basis to meet their obligations to the courts or if they are in crisis due to homelessness or other personal or family difficulty. Clients include those on whom the court has sought reports in order to consider the type of sanction it will impose and persons who are either on a probation or community service order from the court. In addition, parents whose children's behaviour is causing them concern often seek advice from probation and welfare service staff. Others who visit probation and welfare service local offices include lawyers, members of the Garda Síochána, other statutory and voluntary agencies and representatives of local communities. There is no reason to believe the Donaghmede office will be any different from any other local office in this regard.

  I advise the House – as Deputy Broughan said – that, at the request of Deputy Martin Brady, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform recently met representatives of the residents associations for the areas adjacent to Donaghmede Shopping Centre concerning the plans by the probation and welfare service to locate an office in the centre. The Minister acknowledged the views outlined at the meeting on the need for as much consultation as possible with local residents about the plans for such offices, particularly on local concerns about their possible impact on the areas in which they are sited. It is recognised that the siting of any facility which engages offenders and ex-prisoners with a view to reducing crime is always likely to raise some concerns locally. However, in the interests of addressing offending behaviour, it is essential that the State makes provision for such facilities.

  The meeting agreed that the regional manager of the probation and welfare service for the area would inform the residents associations of the proposed date of opening of the local office and also liaise with them on the formation of a monitoring group for the office which will comprise representatives of the residents, traders of the shopping centre and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It will be open to the monitoring group to seek a review by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform of the decision to open the office after a period of 12 months in operation. It is the intention of the Minister to take appropriate action if, in the collective opinion of the monitoring group, any change in the arrangements is needed.

[1307]   An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Cuffe gave me notice of his intention to raise the matter of the need to bring forward legislation to abolish the dual mandate for Dáil Deputies, but as he is not present—

  Mr. Broughan: I think he might be chained to a tree in O'Connell Street, although he voted for the destruction of the trees.

  Mr. Callely: Did he vote for their destruction?

[1308]   Mr. Broughan: Apparently, he and the other Green Party members voted for their destruction.

  Mr. Cullen: It is a bit much that he is not here when I have stayed to reply to the matter.

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I agree with the Minister.

  Mr. Cullen: I should be at a conferring ceremony in the IPA at this stage.

  The Dáil adjourned at 5.15 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 12 November 2002.