Belfast Telegraph

Civil servant's comments criticised

One of the country's most senior civil servants has been criticised by the Ombudsman for Children over claims that he ignored young prisoners' fears about jail.

Emily Logan claims the secretary general of the Department of Justice misrepresented a scathing report she carried out on 16 and 17-year-olds in St Patrick's Institution.

Ms Logan said she was dismayed Sean Aylward told a United Nations committee on torture that her report highlighted the "number of discrepancies between the young people's perception and the actual reality".

She described her own visits to St Patrick's as a chilling experience.

"I was concerned that the most senior civil service who oversees that service would say there was a discrepancy between young people's perception and the reality," she said.

The Ombudsman said officials should sit up and listen when children talked about being frightened and locked in a protective cell, called a pad, in their underwear for prolonged periods of time.

"I just want to make sure there isn't a culture where children will express their views and that those views will be dismissed," said Ms Logan. "I wouldn't find that acceptable."

Ms Logan said it had echoes of children who were not listened to when they were abused, but whose stories were listened to as adults in the Ferns, Murphy and Ryan reports.

"I'm not going accept that we can't change things because there is a recession," she warned. "There are plenty of things culturally we can change in terms of people's attitude to children and young people."

Ms Logan's office dealt with a record 1,233 complaints in 2010. Education accounted for 38% of complaints, with 37% health related, 8% involving justice and 5% associated with housing. Parents remain the best advocates for their children, with 75% of complaints coming from family members, 10% from professionals and 4% from young people themselves.

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