Archive | November, 2009

Ombudsman Calls For An End To Child Imprisonment

30 Nov

By J. P. Anderson:

CHILDREN’S ombudsman Emily Logan has backed calls in a new report for an end to the locking up of children in prisons.

Ms Logan welcomed recommendations in the report that her office be given the power to investigate complaints from children held in St Patrick’s Institution.

The report by the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) said there were 241 committals of boys aged 16 and 17 to the Dublin prison in 2008.

Of these, 131 were children serving sentences, with the rest on remand awaiting trial. An additional 248 children were detained at five child detention centres in 2008.

The IPRT report, Detention of Children in Ireland, said a range of international monitoring bodies had repeatedly called for children to be removed from St Patrick’s, which also houses young men aged 18 to 21.

In 2008, the Government approved plans to move inmates aged 16 and 17 to a new National Children Detention Facility, in Lusk, north Dublin. However, this is not expected to happen until 2012.

The Government has amended legislation to allow it temporarily to detain children aged 16 and 17 in St Patrick’s until then.

In her foreword to the report, Ms Logan said: "The continued detention of boys in St Patrick’s Institution (pending the construction of the National Children Detention Facility) remains a serious concern, and is not in compliance with international human rights standards. Having visited all of the Detention Schools and St Patrick’s Institution, I am convinced that the detention of children in prisons must end."

She added: "Of additional concern is the fact that I cannot investigate complaints from children held in St Patrick’s Institution due to an exclusion in the Ombudsman for Children Act, 2002.

"I, therefore, particularly welcome the recommendation contained in the report that supports both my own and the Committee on the Rights of the Child recommendation to extend the remit of the Ombudsman for Children’s Office to include the power to receive complaints from children so held."

The report said drugs remained one of the "pressing problems" in St Patrick’s and said the increased security measures had resulted in a rise in "bullying and intimidation" where vulnerable inmates are "being forced into accepting drugs during visits for others".

Dr Ursula Kilkelly, chair of the IPRT, said that a quarter of the population were on protection "fearing for their own safety".


‘Head’ Shops Selling Drug Alternatives Face Closure

30 Nov

By J. P. Anderson:

‘HEAD’ stores selling legal alternatives to mind-altering drugs could be closed down next year under laws being considered by the Government.

A number of TDs have expressed concern about the effects in their local communities of the explosion of head shops selling herbal products and chemical-based party and energy pills.

Junior Minister with responsibility for drugs strategy John Curran has sought the advice of the Attorney General on whether legislation could be introduced to ban these stores.

He has "identified head shops as an area of concern" according to an official at the Department of Health, and expressed his personal beliefs that they should be closed down.

Meanwhile, Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said the Forensic Science Laboratory is analysing products seized during searches earlier this year in 25 head shops around the country.

"Pending the outcome of same, investigation files will be submitted to the Law Officers in course for directions as to what charges, if any, should be preferred," said Mr Ahern in a written response to a Dáil question.

"A number of these types of premises have already been subject of a Garda investigation for suspected breaches of the law, resulting in the submission of investigation files to the Law Officers," he said.

The minister was responding to questions from Kildare South Fianna Fáil TD Seán O Fearghaíl, who expressed concern about the "growing phenomenon" and said "these outlets should be barred in the interest of public health".

In October 2006, the Irish Examiner revealed that drugs up to five times the strength of ecstasy were being sold over the counter in at least 15 head shops around Ireland, despite being classified as a class A drug in the US since 2001.
These party pills were finally banned in April when their main ingredient, BZP, was listed as a controlled substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

This made it a criminal offence to buy, sell or possess the drug, often called "pep pills", which often come under the name Jax or Smileys.

Fine Gael has said the planning permission criteria for sex shops should also be applied to head shops.

Social Welfare Benefit Cuts May Affect 300,000 Families

30 Nov

By J. P. Anderson:

CUTS TO child benefit in the forthcoming budget could affect 300,000 families according to the Children’s Rights Alliance, a campaign group representing more than 90 non-governmental organisations.

In response to reports that child benefit would be cut for families who were not in receipt of Social Welfare or the Family Income Supplement (FIS), the alliance provided figures showing that an estimated 600,000 children would lose out in that scenario.

Figures for 2008 showed that child benefit was paid to 596,108 families on behalf of 1,141,938 children. Out of that total, approximately 540,000 children belonged to families on social welfare or FIS.

“This leaves 601,938 children without any additional support from the State beyond the basic child benefit payment,” according to the alliance.

Indications from the Government up to now have been that an across the board cut will be imposed on child benefit, but with a top-up for children from families on social welfare or FIS.

There have also been suggestions that families above a certain income level would not be eligible for child benefit and that they would be asked to identify themselves to the authorities on a self-declaration basis.

Family Income Supplement is paid to families where the earned income is low, but the alliance points out that “FIS has been plagued by low take-up for many years”.

The chief drawbacks were:

It is not claimed by all low- income workers entitled to it, therefore a significant number of children would not benefit from a top up to child benefit that was linked to FIS;

It is inflexible – recipients must work 19 hours a week and it cannot respond to a reduction in working hours below that figure.

“It is complicated to claim, and takes time, thus is not effective for parents that are moving between welfare and work,” says the alliance in a briefing note.

Approximately 29,000 working families claim FIS on behalf of 58,000 children.

The McCarthy report on public expenditure proposed cutting child benefit by 20 per cent but the alliance says this “would lead to a cut in net income of about 3.5 per cent for the poorest one-fifth of families and a fall of less than 1 per cent for the richest one- fifth”.

Alliance chief executive Jillian van Turnhout said: “Child benefit is a reliable payment which does not create poverty traps; it provides a safety net for all families in these challenging times.

“Our tax and welfare systems are not integrated and therefore we do not know which, and how many, families will be pushed over the brink if child benefit is cut.

“The alliance has for many years called for the integration of our tax and welfare systems to enable the State to respond to the changing circumstances of families. We need to find a way to ensure that all of our children are supported.

“The current debate is focused on saving money, not on what is in the best interest of children. Child benefit is children’s money and should not be cut,” she concluded.

The Dáil will this week debate a Labour Party Private Members’ motion calling on the Government to maintain child benefit at its current level in the budget.

Labour spokeswoman on social and family affairs Róisín Shortall said: “Child benefit accounts for a significant proportion on the social welfare budgets, but there are compelling reasons why it should continue to be a universal payment paid at the current rate.

“Families throughout the country are struggling to make ends meet in the face of the high cost of raising children and the cuts that have already been made to family incomes.

“In addition there is no recognition in the Irish tax system of the costs associated with bringing up children,” Ms Shortall said in a press statement.

Dublin: Schools Fail To Follow Child Protection Guidelines

30 Nov

By J. P. Anderson:

A STUDY of more than 100 Dublin primary schools has found significant breaches in official child protection requirements for schools.

The study by academics at Trinity College Dublin and NUI Maynooth found that just 16 per cent of 103 newly qualified teachers surveyed had read official department child protection guidelines.

While the religious background of the schools surveyed is not included in the research, official figures show the Catholic Church controls more than 92 per cent of primary schools in the State. The Department of Education has been issuing guidelines to schools on child protection since 1991. For the past 10 years, all schools have been obliged to have child protection policies in place.

The study was conducted by Dr Helen Buckley of the School of Social Work and Social Policy at Trinity College Dublin and Dr Kathryn McGarry of the Department of Applied Social Studies at NUI Maynooth.

The participants were 103 qualified primary teachers in full-time teaching jobs in 103 different schools.

The study was conducted in January. It was prompted by the authors’ experience that young teachers’ knowledge of child protection procedures was weaker than might be expected. The fact that so many new teachers were unaware of the steps to take in cases of suspected abuse indicates child protection does not have a high place on the educational agenda, according to the authors.

In a commentary accompanying the research, Dr Buckley says it is vital that each school has clear and effective child protection procedures in place in accordance with the department guidelines. These should be brought to the attention of management, staff and parents.

School management should also provide all new staff – whether teaching or otherwise – with a copy of the school’s child protection guidelines and ensure that they are familiar with the procedures to be followed, Dr Buckley writes.

The Department of Education has explicit guidelines published in 2001 which outline the formal responsibility expected of teachers in respect of child protection.

They stipulate that management arrangements in schools should provide for the planning, development and implementation of child protection programmes.

The study says the role of the school in the protection and welfare of children is significant because of the many opportunities available to primary school teachers to monitor children in a range of situations.

“It is all the more important, therefore, that schools are ready and willing to identify and act on any concerns they may have about the protection and welfare of their pupils.”

Key findings included

Half of teachers did not know if their school had a child protection policy or not.

Of those who were aware their school had a policy, just under half (49 per cent) had not read it.

When asked if they had confidence in their ability to identify abuse or suspected abuse, a majority (57 per cent) indicated uncertainty or lack of confidence to reasonably suspect that a child is being harmed or at risk of being harmed.

Just under half (48 per cent) said there was a child protection input in their teacher training. Of the remainder, 21 per cent reported that they did not have any such input, while 31 per cent said they could not remember.

Dublin Plays Host To Invisible Senior Citizens

30 Nov

By J. P. Anderson:

Senior citizens carrying their free travel passes will enjoy free or reduced-rate entry to a number of cultural and entertainment events taking place today as part of Dublin Senior Citizens day.

There will be free of reduced entry to the Book of Kells, Dublin Castle, Writers Museum, National Gallery, National Wax Museum Plus, Croke Park, Christchurch Cathedral, Dublinia and the Viking World and ESB Dublin Georgian House Museum.

The Irish Film Institute will hold a free morning screening of Casablanca and the Screen Cinema will offer reduced entry for Singing in the Rain in the afternoon. There will be free raffles in the Ilac Centre and live music in the Ilac and GPO.

Senior citizens can call to Dublin Tourism offices on Suffolk Street of O’Connell Street on Monday to collect a map and events programme.

A spokesman for Friends of the Elderly said “Dublin Senior Citizens Day is the day when senior citizens from all over Ireland are welcomed into their capital city".

He said while the average senior citizen has spent the equivalent of €180,000 during their lifetime, 130,000 senior citizens live alone – often on a state pension.

“When they were consumers they were the centre of attention and now they have become invisible,” he said.

(Editor’s note: A beggardy gesture in the most beggardy part a beggerdary country on a bitter Winter’s day. There are more days in the year than this one).

Gardai Issue Warning Over Bad Road Conditions Nationwide

30 Nov

By J. P. Anderson:

Serious traffic disruption is expected this morning after an oil tanker jack-knifed in Co Dublin.

The Malahide Road, one of the main routes into Dublin city, is currently blocked beside Campion’s Pub in Balgriffin.

Traffic diversions have been put in place.

AA Roadwatch says Gardaí are diverting motorists via Baskin Lane and Balgriffin Road.

Separately in Kildare, a jack-knifed lorry is blocking the N9 Kilcullen/Castledermot road at Crookstown.

AA Roadwatch says traffic is building on both approaches.


Gardaí are advising motorists to take extreme care on the roads as icy conditions are adding to problems caused by flooding.

Roads in Kildare, Carlow, Kilkenny, Meath, Wicklow, Roscommon, Westmeath and Dublin are the worst affected by black ice.

Gardaí in these counties reporting a large number of minor accidents.

In Co Cork, there has been a seven-car collision on the N8 south of the toll plaza at Watergrasshill due to severe icy conditions.

There have also been several crashes on the N20 between Buttevant and Charleville.

There have also been several crashes in Mayo with roads particularly slippery around Westport, Castelbar and Newport.

Elsewhere, the River Liffey burst its banks at a number of locations yesterday.

Roads around Newbridge, Straffan, Celbridge and Johnstown remain closed and people were forced from their homes in Sallins.

In Dublin, the worst affected area is the Strawberry Beds, which is still impassable. Roads in Wicklow and Meath are also flooded.

Galway farms under water

Elsewhere, flooding in Co Galway is said to have eased slightly overnight, but many roads remain closed.

Up to 300 farms are under water and more than 200 families have not been able to return to their homes.

Two areas in Galway are still on high alert, despite indications that overall flood levels may be receding slightly.

Families living in the villages of Clonfert and Meelick have been using pumps and sandbags to try to keep their homes from flooding.

In south Galway, flood levels appear to have eased in the Peterswell area, where emergency animal fodder supplies were distributed over the weekend, but in nearby Kilternan local farmers say the situation is getting worse.

The N18 Galway-Limerick road remains closed at Kiltartan due to severe flooding.

Washington: Police Seek EX-Con Over Murder Of Four Police Officers

30 Nov

By J. P. Anderson:

PARKLAND, Wash. – Police searching for a man in connection with the coffee-shop slaying of four police officers surrounded a house in a Seattle neighbourhood late Sunday night.

Investigators were following up a lead on a "person of interest," and were trying to contact and identify anyone who might be inside the house, said Seattle Police spokesman Jeff Kappel. The house is more than 30 miles away from Parkland crime scene. Kappel said it wasn’t clear whether anyone was inside.

"We don’t know and that’s why we need to go in and contact that individual," Kappel said.

Officers from around the region were hunting for Maurice Clemmons, 37, who was believed to near the Parkland coffee shop around the time of the shooting, said Ed Troyer, a spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff. Troyer declined to say what evidence might Clemmons to the shooting.

Clemmons has an extensive violent criminal history from Arkansas, including aggravated robbery and theft, the sheriff’s office said. He also recently was arrested and charged in Washington State for assaulting a police officer, and second-degree rape of a child. Using a bail bondsman, he posted $150,000 and was released from jail last week.

Still unclear was why a man entered the coffee shop Sunday morning and gunned down Sgt. Mark Renninger, 39; and Officers Ronald Owens, 37; Tina Griswold, 40; and Greg Richards 42.

"We have no motive at all," Troyer said. "I don’t think when we find out what it is; it will be anything that makes any sense or be worth it."

The four officers were with the 100-member police department of Lakewood, which adjoins the unincorporated area of Parkland, where the shootings took place.

Richards’ sister-in-law, Melanie Burwell, called the shooting "senseless."

"He didn’t have a mean bone in his body," she said. "If there were more people in the world like Greg, things like this wouldn’t happen.

An impromptu memorial of an American flag, flowers and candles decorated the front yard at Renninger’s home. His family declined to speak with reporters.

On Sunday night, a motorcade of dozens of police cars and motorcycles with lights flashing escorted the bodies of the four officers to the medical examiner’s office.

Troyer said investigators believe two of the officers were killed while sitting in the shop, and a third was shot dead after standing up. The fourth apparently "gave up a good fight."

"We believe there was a struggle, a commotion, a fight … that he fought the guy all the way out the door," Troyer said. "We hope that he hit him." Investigators were asking area medical providers to report any gunshot wounds.

In 1989, Clemmons, then 17, was convicted in Little Rock for aggravated robbery. He was paroled in 2000 after then-Gov. Mike Huckabee commuted Clemmons’ 95-year prison sentence. Huckabee, who was criticized during his run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 for granting many clemencies and commutations, cited Clemmons’ youth. Clemmons later violated his parole, was returned to prison and released in 2004.

Troyer said the gunman entered the coffee house and walked toward the counter as if to place an order. A barista saw a gun when the man opened his jacket and fled out the back door. The man then turned and opened fire on the officers as they sat working on their laptops

Troyer said the attack was clearly targeted at the officers, not a robbery gone bad.

"This was more of an execution. Walk in with the specific mindset to shoot police officers," he said. "There were marked patrol cars outside and they were all in uniform."

Troyer said the officers were catching up on paperwork at the beginning of their shifts when they were attacked at 8:15 a.m.

Two employees and a few other customers were in the shop during the attack. None were injured. All were interviewed by the Pierce County sheriff’s investigators.

There was no indication of any connection with the Halloween night shooting of a Seattle police officer.

Authorities say the man charged with that shooting also firebombed four police vehicles in October as part of a "one-man war" against law enforcement. Christopher Monfort, 41, was arrested after being wounded in a firefight with police days after the Seattle shooting. He remains hospitalized in stable condition, the hospital said Sunday.

The officers killed Sunday were a patrol squad made up of three officers and their sergeant. No threats had been made against them or other officers in the region, sheriff’s officials said.

"We won’t know if it’s a copycat effect or what it was until we get the case solved," Troyer said.

The coffee shop, part of a popular local chain, is on a side street near McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma, about 35 miles south of Seattle. The shop is in a small retail centre alongside two restaurants, a cigar store and a nail salon.

Investigators were checking surveillance video from multiple sources, trying to identify a possible getaway car, Troyer said.

"We lost people we care about. We’re working to find out who did this and deal with him." Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor told reporters at the scene.



Maurice Clemmons, 37, a person of interest in the shootings of four Lakewood Department police officers at a coffee shop in Tacoma, the Washington suburb of Parkland, is pictured in this handout released by the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department on November 29, 2009. Pierce County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Ed Troyer described the shootings at the Forza Coffee shop as an ambush, the Tacoma News Tribune said on its Web site. REUTERS/Pierce County Sheriff Department/Handout

Associated Press Writers Rachel La Corte in Olympia, Jill Zeman Bleed in Little Rock, Ark., and Photographer Ted S. Warren in Parkland contributed to this report.