News 14-12-06

A round up of the week's stories: Further problems predicted for late, over-budget port tunnel; Young offenders to be housed in €9m ‘temporary' prison; O'Malley profits from sale of mental-health medication; ‘Poorly monitored, rushed, inadequately validated...' ; Dublin City Council agrees to carry out fire risk assessments; Veronica Guerin bursary scheme for DCU; Fall in number of schools with psychological services; 

Further problems predicted for late, over-budget port tunnel

The Dublin port tunnel will reduce truck numbers in the city centre, but there are concerns it will increase traffic problems on the M50 and increase delivery costs for certain truck journeys. By Emma Browne

The Dublin port tunnel is to finally open to traffic on 20 December, three years behind schedule and costing three times more than the original estimate.

The port tunnel was first mooted as far back as 1991 when it was proposed to the department of environment and local government. It was originally one of four options put forward to solve the problem of port traffic in Dublin city centre. When it was announced as the chosen option in 1993 the estimated cost was £100m. It was approved by government in 1999 and already the cost had doubled to £204m. The final bill will be €715m.

In 2004 the Comptroller and Auditor General reported on the cost of the tunnel which had trebled between 1999 and 2002.

The then Minister for Transport, Seamus Brennan, attributed the huge increase to construction-cost inflation and the additions of land and property compensation.
According to the government in 1999, work on the tunnel was to begin at the end of 2000 and take three-and-half years. It took six years.

Half of the final €715m bill is from construction costs which come in at €4.48m. Included in part of the final bill is €1.5m in compensation of property, including the houses that were damaged as a result of the tunnelling. Over €900,000 in compensation has already been paid out.

As well as the construction overruns the toll charges have increased over the years. When the government approved the plan in 1999 they said there would be no charge for cars using the tunnel if they were travelling out of the city centre but a £3 charge would be imposed if they were travelling into the city centre. There is a toll for cars travelling in both directions now. They are €3 between midnight and 6am, €12 from 4pm to 9pm and €6 the rest of the time.

The port tunnel stretches from Dublin port to the Whitehall/N1 area where it will join the M50. It is 4.5km long and the journey time is six minutes from the port to the M50. It has a capacity to carry 70,000 vehicles a day.

The aim of the port tunnel was to reduce the number of Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) and cars in the city centre. Dublin City Council (DCC) estimate there will be a reduction of 9,000 HGVs in the city centre every day because of the port tunnel. As part of this plan the council have adopted a HGV Management Strategy which bans all HGVs in daytime hours unless they have a permit. This will come into effect on 19 February 2007. DCC estimate that as of the 20 December there will be a reduction in 6,000 HGVs in the city centre.

The port tunnel will clearly be successful in terms of reducing truck numbers and therefore traffic in the city centre, but there are still concerns and problems with the tunnel.

There is a major concern about the addition of more traffic on the M50. The M50 is currently full to capacity and although an upgrade is already underway, by the time that is completed it will be at full capacity again.

As well as this the HGV ban forcing trucks out of the city centre will make some truck journeys totally illogical.

For instance trucks travelling to Dun Laoghaire or Sandymount from Dublin port will not be able to go through the Eastlink toll bridge as of February and will instead have to travel to their destinations via the port tunnel and then the M50. The distance from the port to Dun Laoghaire via the Eastlink is 11km but it is 50km via the port tunnel and M50. This extra distance will obviously add delays and cost to the transportation of goods.

Also, Dublin port is almost full to capacity so in the long term an alternative port will have to be found. A report by Baxter Eadie on Irish ports said Dublin will reach capacity by 2014 and perhaps as early as 2007.

As well as all this there are problems with the height of the tunnel. The operating height of the tunnel is 4.65 metres. This prevents the larger trucks that need five metres' clearance from using it. These are usually large car transporters and extra large container vehicles.

The Irish Road  Haulage Association (IRHA) estimates that the larger trucks represent about five per cent of the total British and Irish fleet. The National Institute for Transport and Logistics says less than 1.7 per cent of HGVs accessing Dublin port exceed the operating height. However the IRHA says it needs to be higher for greater productivity. The larger trucks can carry more goods – meaning fewer trucks carrying more.

Dublin port accounts for almost 50 per cent of the turnover of Irish ports. π

Young offenders to be housed in €9m ‘temporary' prison

Proposed juvenile-detention reforms under Children's Act criticised as ‘flawed' and ‘inadequate'. By Justine McCarthy

The delayed restructuring of the juvenile-detention service includes a move to accommodate 16- and 17-year-old male offenders in a “temporary” children's prison. The facility at St Patrick's Institution was built at a cost of €9m four years ago but has never been occupied.

The planned handover on 1 January of responsibility for children's detention facilities from the department of education to a newly created unit within the department of justice will not now go ahead on the appointed date. The Minister for Children's office expects that it will be March before the change-over is completed.

The transition was decreed by the Children's Act 2001 which targeted the end of 2006 for full implementation of its final tranche of measures, Part 10 of the legislation.

A campaigning lawyer in the area of children's justice, Dr Ursula Kilkelly, has described the delay as “absolutely unacceptable” while deploring the Children's Act as flawed and inadequate. “The act hasn't actually contributed anything to protecting children in detention,” said Kilkelly, a senior law lecturer in UCC and a member of the Irish Penal Reform Trust.

Housing 16- and 17-year-old boys in the previously unused facility at the Dickensian St Patrick's Institution is a stop-gap measure, pending the construction of the new prison complex at Thornton Hall in north Dublin. The unit was built on the orders of former justice minister John O'Donoghue after two gardaí were killed by a stolen car on the Stillorgan Road in 2002. The car was occupied by youths with outstanding arrest warrants against them. In recent months, the unit has been used as makeshift offices by prison staff.

The restructuring of juvenile justice is designed to address the protracted scandals of children being detained in adult prisons – St Patrick's and the Dochas women's prison in the Mountjoy complex, as well as Cork and Limerick prisons – and the shortage of places in special schools for children at risk. With three state departments – justice, education and health – over-lapping in the provision of centres, the intention was to streamline the service under a single authority.

However, according to Kilkelly, the bi-location remit of the Irish Youth Justice Service, whose staff has yet to be officially appointed, will not ameliorate the confusion. While Youth Justice will be situated in the department of justice, the Minister for Children in the department of health will have over-arching responsibility for everyone aged under 18.

One reason for the delay in implementing the justice provisions of the five-year-old Children's Act is that new facilities are needed. “The development and construction of children detention school places which can accommodate 16- and 17-year-old children with the requisite facilities to provide care and education will take some time to complete,” according to a statement from the Minister for Children's office.
However, another special facility at the Trinity House complex in Lusk, Co Dublin, has – like the one in St Patrick's – lain empty since it was built at a cost of €4.7m. After investigating the decision to build the National Unit for Secure Care in May 2003 the Comptroller and Auditor General commented in his official report: “The public finds it hard to understand why district judges tell offenders that, but for a lack of available places, they would be sent to detention centres.”

The high-support Lusk facility was designed to safely accommodate young people at risk of self-harm and suicide. “Nobody has ever stayed there and nobody will until some young person kills themselves in St Pat's,” predicts an employee in the juvenile justice sector.

O'Malley profits from sale of mental-health medication

Junior health minister Tim Ó'Malley recently told a medical magazine that ‘mental illness is not a medical condition'. But, through a family-owned pharmacy, he earns an annual income from the sale of prescribed drugs to mentally-ill patients. By Frank Connolly

The junior minister at the centre of a storm over his comments on the treatment of mentally-ill children earns an annual income from the sale of prescribed drugs for mentally-ill patients.

Tim O'Malley, junior minister at the Department of Health and Children with responsibility for mental illness, benefits directly from the sale of prescribed medication through his commercial interest in O'Malley's Regional Pharmacy Ltd. The practice in Dooradoyle, Co Limerick was previously owned by O'Malley but is now owned and run by his daughter, Sheila.

The pharmacy received payments of almost €410,000 in 2005 under the Primary Care Reimbursement Service (PCRS) scheme.

Tim O'Malley is the Progressive Democrat TD for Limerick East. He recently told Irish Medical News magazine that, in his experience as a pharmacist, there is a strong view that “depression and mental illness is not a medical condition”. He also claimed: “It's part of life's events that people get depressed or get unhappy.”

“During that time I developed an interest in the whole area of mental health, particularly because of all the areas of prescribing medication. I was aware that unlike other areas of health... where you can measure the result of taking medication, in mental health it is impossible to measure, scientifically, the results.”

It is unclear how much O'Malley receives from his interest in the family business but his Dáil declaration of interest confirms that he obtains both rental income and an annual consultancy payment from his daughter out of the pharmacy's earnings.

In his declaration of interests to the Oireachtas, O'Malley states that he and his wife sold his interest and directorship in the business some years ago: “When my wife and I sold our interests and directorships in the Regional Pharmacy Ltd, to our daughter Sheila, part of the agreement was that she would pay us: (1) rental income for the pharmacy; (2) pay me a consultancy fee. This arrangement will continue indefinitely.”

He also declares that he sold his shares in two companies, United Drug Ltd and Uniphar Ltd, in 2005. His declaration also reveals that he owns a holiday home in Ballybunion, Co Kerry and land and property at Regional Pharmacy, Dooradoyle, where the pharmacy and his political office are located.

According to the HSE figures, which detail all amounts paid to pharmacists in 2005 under the   PCRS scheme, Sheila O'Malley's pharmacy received total payments of €409,917 last year.  These payments include a GMS fee of €140,286, Drugs Payment Scheme fees of €200,782 and Long Term Illness scheme fees of €68,849.  

Other HSE figures show that medication for problems with the nervous system comprise the second-largest payments to pharmacists under the scheme.

‘Poorly monitored, rushed, inadequately validated...'

A leaked report shows how the HSE's family-reunification
process for minors seeking asylum puts children at serious risk. Emma Browne investigates

An internal HSE report says its family-reunification process for unaccompanied minors seeking asylum is “poorly monitored, rushed, inadequately validated and not reviewed”.  

These concerns were contained in a review of the services offered to unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in the HSE eastern region carried out in 2005. The HSE has refused to release the review but Village has obtained a copy.
Between April 2000 and March 2005, 3,915 children came into the care of the HSE. Fifty per cent of those children were reunified with a family member.  

One of several problems identified in the family reunification process is the practice of holding only one interview to decide if the child and adult are family. Previous addresses are not always checked. Previous service providers are not always contacted to verify facts and document verification is not easy to carry out. Some children are coached with their answers in the interview and there is inadequate follow-up once reunification has happened.

Since 2000, the percentage of children reunified rose from 21 per cent to 76 per cent. Ireland is the only EU country where reunification within the host country is a significant trend.

These children could be at risk of exploitation and trafficking if they were reunified with someone posing as a family member. The review said the lack of follow-ups in family reunification was identified in 2003 and again in 2004 but recommendations were “insufficiently progressed”. It refers to concerns of a barrister who adjudicates on refugee appeals for unaccompanied minors seeking asylum who said: “This member has come across cases where accompanied minors have been placed with most unsatisfactory persons as guardians.”

The report recommends that DNA testing should be carried out to verify family connections and that there should be more follow-up meetings after an unaccompanied minor has been reunified.

The review also said the asylum process does not meet the needs of children who may have been trafficked or psychologically-damaged. Between 2000 and 2004, 136 unaccompanied minors seeking asylum reported allegations of abuse – 60 per cent of these were confirmed and 66 per cent related to sexual abuse.

Examples of children with psychological problems were included in the report. “A 16-year-old female who was forced into prostitution, physicality beaten by pimps and visibly bears these marks, difficulties in sleeping and nightmares.”

“A 16-year-old female who is orphaned was involved in beating people to death under army orders in her country of origin, alleging multiple rape in country of origin, pregnant with twins and very strong believe that the babies and herself were evil.”

In a questionnaire for the review, HSE staff found that support and counselling accounted for 20 per cent of separated children's unmet needs.

Since 1999 a major criticism of the HSE's provisions for these children has been the accommodation they are placed in. A majority of the children are accommodated in private hostels. There was inadequate supervision and staff at the hostels, no inspections or auditing of the hostels, young children were being accommodated with older children and there were no kitchen facilities.

In the last three years the HSE has improved the accommodation for separated children but a majority of children are still placed in hostels which are not subject to the same independent inspection processes as residential centres accommodating Irish children in state care. The Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan, has said Ireland is in breach of its obligations under the Conventions on the Rights of the Child because of these discriminatory standards of care for separated children.
However, the 2005 review found the HSE's service has “improved the poor quality of the accommodation it found in its own audits that left no doubt as to extremely poor compliance with the standards for children in residential centres”.

The review was also critical of HSE management of these children. It said there was a “slow decision-making process” and policy was led by individual opinion instead of by a “factually-informed strategy”.

Dublin City Council agrees to carry out fire risk assessments

 Dublin City Council has agreed to do a fire risk assessment across the four fire brigades in Dublin.

The decision came after Sinn Féin councillor Daithí Doolan tabled a motion for the fire assessment and it was passed unanimously by the council on 4 December.

This came after two years of lobbying by Doolan and calls from the fire services themselves for an fire assessment. Village reported previously that the strategic fire plan for Dublin is 25 years old and the population has increased by 25 per cent since the fire plan was devised.

Since 1985, there have been no additional firemen or fire prevention officers and only one ambulance added to the Dublin Fire Brigade (DFB).

There are concerns that the current resources allocated to DFB are not enough to cope with the growing population in Dublin and large areas being developed like the Northern Fringe of the city where 30,000-40,000 people will be housed over the next few years.

A report carried out by independent consultants Farrell Grant Sparks (FGS) into Fire Services in Ireland in 2002 highlighted the lack of funding given to the Irish Fire Services and the lack of adequate reviews.

Their main recommendation was that a national body be set up to create a co-coordinated, coherent, integrated approach in each local authority.

Dublin City Council (DCC) has responsibility for the DFB, which is made up of fire brigades from the four local authorities in the county – Fingal County Council, Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council, South Dublin County Council and the City Council.

Daithí Doolan says, “In the New Year I want to tie down a timeframe and structure for the assessment and to ask that an evaluation takes place after the assessment.

“I want to make sure that this is rolling out into the future as well.”

Emma Browne


Veronica Guerin bursary scheme for DCU 

Independent News and Media is to fund a bursary scheme for student journalists in Dublin City University in memory of murdered journalist Veronica Guerin.

The Veronica Guerin Memorial Bursary has been established with DCU's School of Communications. From next year, applicants for the Masters in Journalism programme will be able to apply for the bursary, which is worth €8,500.

Guerin was a member of the university's governing body from 1982 to 1992.

The annual scheme will run for five consecutive years and is in conjunction with Independent News and Media. Applicants will be required to propose a project that has some relevance to Veronica Guerin. While prospective students of the MA in Journalism can apply, students of the current 2006 to 2007 programme will also be allowed to submit applications.

The sole successful applicant will be selected by a panel of representatives from the School of Communications and Independent News and Media after they have assessed project proposals under criteria such as rationale and methodology, among others.

Luke O'Neill

Fall in number of schools with psychological services 

The number of schools without psychological services has increased in the last year. Information released by the Department of Education and Science shows that there were 1,522 primary schools which did not have school psychological services in 2005.

By February 2006 this had risen to 1,655 primary schools. Under the Department of Education and Science, psychological services are provided to primary and post-primary schools through the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS). They assess learning disabilities and offer counselling to students.

The figures show that 51 per cent of primary schools do not have access to NEPS.

Fine Gael spokesperson Olwyn Enright says that the government's failure to meet its target to employ 184 NEPS psychologists by 2004 has meant that there are not enough psychologists to cover schools.

When NEPS was established in 1999, there was a target of 184 working psychologists. This target was to be met by 2004 – by then all schools were to have access to NEPS. The government is short of this target by 60 posts.

Olwyn Enright says, “These schools have dropped off the NEPS radar due to the failure of this government to live up to a promise that was made almost eight years ago. An additional allocation of €5m for 2007 would allow for all schools to be covered by the NEPS service.

“This funding is needed now, as access to the psychological services provided by NEPS is vital for children and young people with special educational needs.”

Emma Browne