Youth offenders will no longer be sent to the notorious St Patrick's Institution in Dublin within the next two years, Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald has vowed.
Around 50 million euro has been secured to complete the National Children Detention Facility at Oberstown, near Lusk, north Dublin, she announced.
Ms Fitzgerald said the six new detention units, as well as education and training facilities, will end the need to detain 16 and 17-year-olds at St Patrick's, an adult prison, beside Mountjoy Jail.
"We will make very significant early inroads until, within two years, all those under 18 who need to be detained will be sent to dedicated child-specific facilities on the Oberstown campus," she said.
"A major step towards ending this practice will be taken on May 1 next when newly remanded or sentenced 16-year-olds will instead go to the children's detention facilities at Oberstown."
The detention of younger teenagers at St Patrick's has been criticised for decades by human rights observers both at home and abroad. As far back as 1985, a Committee of Inquiry into the Penal System called for the institution to be shut as soon as possible.
Former Inspector of Prisons Justice Dermot Kinlen described the facility in 2006 as a "finishing school" for bullies and rookie criminals. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child and several other European committees have also criticised the detention of children at the prison.
Ms Fitzgerald admitted putting children in adult prison facilities was contrary to international standards in children's rights.
"The path from St Patrick's Institution to Mountjoy Prison has been too well worn over the years," she said. "We must interrupt the predictable path of violence and crime and repeat offending progressing to further serious offending and committals in adult prisons."
All newly-remanded or sentenced 16-year-olds from May 1 onwards will now be held at Oberstown, where there are three children detention schools in operation, including Trinity House School, Oberstown Boys School and Oberstown Girls School. The campus currently accommodates 44 boys and eight girls.