News and Events

Save the Date - The Children Act at 20: Reflections on Progress and the Future

28 May 2021

UCC School of Law will host a special online symposium marking 20 years of the Children Act 2001 on Thursday 8 July, 2:00pm-5:30pm.

The Children Act 2001 was passed by the Oireachtas on 8 July 2001 as the most comprehensive reform of youth justice law in Ireland for over a century. 

It provides for:

  • An age of prosecution of 12 years, with some exceptions, up to 18 (plus) years
  • The rights of children in Garda custody
  • The Garda Diversion Programme, which provides eligible children with the opportunity to be diverted from offending, without prosecution
  • The Children Court, as a dedicated court for minor offences with the power to divert a child to the Child and Family Agency, to the Probation Service for a family conference and to impose a range of sanctions on conviction
  • A wide range of community-based sanctions
  • Education- and care-based detention for children in Oberstown Children Detention Campus.


The Act is based on the principles of diversion and detention as a last resort and contains numerous references to the child’s welfare. With elements drawn from the New Zealand legislation, the Act has supported the development of progressive youth justice practice in Ireland, including restorative justice approaches. In general and in the above specific areas, the Act has influenced better treatment of children in conflict with the law in various ways.

At the same time, the implementation of the Act has not been without difficulty and while some gaps were addressed when the Act was amended, other weaknesses remain. For instance, the Act does not provide for children charged with indictable (very serious) offences and children leaving detention have no right to after-care. A new (third) national Youth Justice Strategy has just been adopted by Government but the Irish Youth Justice Service, that oversaw the area for much of the last decade has been abolished with the move of youth justice to the Department of Justice.

The 20th anniversary of the Act provides an opportunity for reflection on what has been achieved in the last twenty years in youth justice and what pressing concerns remain.

This virtual event brings together some of the key influencers in both the development and the implementation of the Children Act 2001 to reflect on the origins of the legislation, the challenges associated with its implementation and the impact that the Act has had on the lives of children who come into conflict with the law. In a series of panel discussions, experiences of legislating and implementing legislation in practice will be explored, in order to capture the learning from this important phase in Ireland’s youth justice development.

To stimulate discussion, speakers are asked to address the following three questions:

1. What have been the main achievements in Irish youth justice in the last 20 years?
2. What have been the main barriers/enablers of change in that time?
3. What reforms are required to support the development of Irish youth justice?

Each speaker will be given a maximum of ten minutes to present their perspectives on these issues, followed by a general discussion.


2pm: Introduction and Welcome, from Professor John O'Halloran, Interim President, University College Cork

2.15 pm – 3 pm Panel 1 Origins and Implementation of the Children Act 2001

Associate Professor Nessa Lynch, Faculty of Law, Te Herenga Waka - Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand
Ms Sylda Langford, former Director General, Office of the Minister for Children
Dr Louise Forde, Brunel University, London

3pm – 4.00 pm Panel 2 Policing, Court and Probation

His Honour Justice John O’Connor, Circuit Court (and former Children Court)
Chief Superintendent Colette Quinn
Vivian Geiran, former Director, Probation Service
Anne Conroy, Le Chéile Mentoring

4:15pm – 5.00pm Panel 3 Detention

Pat Bergin, former Director, Oberstown Children Detention Campus
Emily Logan, Commissioner, GSOC, former Ombudsman for Children
Fíona Ni Chinnéide, Executive Director, Irish Penal Reform Trust

5.00pm – 5.15 pm Panel 4 Young People’s Perspectives

Don O’Leary, Director, together with two young people from Cork Life Centre

5.15pm Concluding Remarks and Close

The event convenor is Professor Ursula Kilkelly, School of Law, University College Cork.

Download speaker biographies here: Speaker Biographies - Children Act at 20

The event is free to attend and open to all, but advance registration is essential.

Register Now: 

School of Law

Scoil an Dlí

Room 1.63, Aras na Laoi, T12 T656