Tusla chief faces committal to prison proceedings over alleged failure to comply with order

Mr Justice John Jordan rejected an application to hold the agency in contempt over its failure to place a boy in special care in response to his order

Tusla chief executive Kate Duggan is facing an application for her attachment and committal to prison over the agency’s alleged failure to comply with an order for a young teenager’s detention in special care.

The latest application against the child and family agency marks an escalation in what applicants say are their efforts to secure bed spaces in one of the State’s three special care units, which are grappling with an acute staffing shortage.

Children aged 12-17 who are particularly at risk can be admitted to and detained in these secure centres only on foot of a court order. Speaking early last month, Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman said just 13 of the 26 special care beds were operational due to a lack of staff.

In recent weeks, Mr Justice John Jordan rejected an application to hold the agency in contempt over its failure to place a boy in special care in response to his order made last December and later renewed.


The application, made by a teenage boy suing through his mother, sought a declaration of contempt but stopped short of seeking to attach and commit a Tusla representative to prison.

The judge held that the correct procedure for invoking the contempt jurisdiction was to issue a motion for attachment and committal.

On Thursday, the boy’s lawyers told the judge they would be seeking to appeal against the dismissal and separately intended to issue an attachment and committal motion.

Michael Lynn SC, instructed by EP Keane & Company solicitors, said they felt they had “no alternative but to attach and commit the chief executive, Kate Duggan”, as representative of the agency.

This approach, said Mr Lynn, appearing with Brendan Hennessy, seems to be what Tusla and the court say should be followed if invoking the contempt jurisdiction. The boy’s life was at “continuing risk” while he remained in the community, he added.

The court heard previously that the teenager had conditions arising out of childhood trauma and had been at “very serious risk” for months due to his cocaine dealing, drug addiction, absconding from State residential care and rough sleeping. It is also alleged he had been assaulted, threatened and exposed to sexual and physical abuse.

He has previously been detained in special care, but his situation declined quickly after his release.

Although Tusla was not formally on notice of the boy’s application, senior counsel Féichín McDonagh was present in court and noted that “six or seven” recent contempt applications against his client had either fallen away or been defeated.

He said the new application did not seem to conform with the judge’s expressed wish for parties in the special care court list to work collaboratively.

Mr Justice Jordan gave permission for the boy’s lawyers to issue their motion and made various directions for how the matter was to proceed. He adjourned the case to next Thursday.

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan is an Irish Times reporter