Minister for Children Katherine Zappone was warned of resignations and possible legal action if she attempted to publish an independent report into the operation of the Oberstown Children Detention Campus.

The report was ordered in 2016 after a fire at Oberstown caused substantial damage to parts of the campus.

Professor Barry Goldson, of the School of Law and Social Justice in the University of Liverpool, and Professor Nicholas Hardwick, of the School of Law at Royal Holloway, University of London, were asked to come to Ireland to carry out a review of the operation of Oberstown to identify improvements which could be made.

Correspondence obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by RTÉ's This Week programme shows the Chairperson of the Board of Oberstown, Professor Ursula Kilkelly, informed the Department of Children and Youth Affairs that the board would not publish the report because of legal risks.

In an email Professor Kilkelly said: "Independent legal advice to the board advised that there were very serious legal risks associated with the publication of the report. In light of its legal responsibilities, the Board had no choice but to take the decision it did not to publish the report".

The correspondence reveals that individuals working at Oberstown were criticised in the independent report.

The documents show that the Department of Children proposed a mechanism to allow those criticised in the report to be offered a fair hearing, so that the report could then be published.

However these efforts proved unsuccessful and the Chairperson of the Board of Management of Oberstown Professor Ursula Kilkelly warned of serious consequences if the government attempted to publish the report. 

She said to do so would "involve going against the decision of the board which was made following a considered and careful process in line with independent legal advice."

And Professor Kilkelly warned of possible resignations: "I am not sure where this would leave me as chair of the board given all the time and energy we have invested in this process. I think resignations would be a real prospect," she said.

In further correspondence Professor Kilkelly outlined that individuals working at the centre who were criticised in the report stated their intention to take legal advice should the report be published.

She told the Department this was connected to a "failure to adhere to fair procedures in the completion of the Operational Review", according to documents obtained by RTÉ News.

Following the legal concerns and the issues raised by the Board of Oberstown, Minister Zappone decided not to publish the report.

The authors of the Operational Review have criticised the decision not to publish their report.

Professor Nick Hardwick said the authors were given a clear commitment that it would be published.

"We are very disappointed that this has been reneged on" he said. 

"We haven't been given a clear explanation of why that's the case, we've been told that the board of Oberstown has received legal advice that they can't publish the report but we haven't been told what that legal advice relates to."

Professor Hardwick also said the authors would be prepared to redact their report to allow for it to be published: "It remains the case that if there's anything in the report that people feel is unfair or inaccurate we are very willing to consider that, we are very willing to have parts of the report redacted, but at the current time there are no examples of points that Oberstown have put to us that they are saying are inaccurate or unfair, that we haven't agreed to accept or change."

In answer to a parliamentary question in the Dáil, Minister Zappone said she decided not to publish the report because the Board of Oberstown was "not in a position to satisfy itself, or me, that fair procedures had been applied before the report was finalised and submitted." 

But the second author of the report Professor Barry Goldson from the University of Liverpool said: "Professor Hardwick and myself completely reject the suggestion that any procedure with which we were involved has been 'unfair' and we have not been provided with any specific instances or examples where this is allegedly the case."

Professor Goldson said throughout the entire process of preparing the final report the authors provided the management of the Oberstown campus with repeated opportunities to raise anything which they considered to be unfair or inaccurate.

He said management were consulted with prior to submitting the final version of the report in February 2017.

And he said during this time "revisions and corrections" were made to the report.

When contacted for a response, Oberstown detention campus acknowledged that the authors of the report had raised these points in correspondence with the Board of Management.

In a statement it said the authors' views have been given careful and serious consideration, but in the particular context of Irish law, the Board of Management was "regrettably not in a position to authorise full publication of the report having received independent advice that it would be legally unsafe to do so."

Oberstown pointed out that the recommendations in the report were published and an action plan to implement these recommendations has also been made public.

Oberstown said substantial progress has been made at the centre on the implementation of these recommendations. 

The Irish Penal Reform Trust and the Children's Rights Alliance have both called for the report to be published in the interests of transparency and accountability, and Sinn Féin TD Denise Mitchell said the report could be published in redacted form if there were legal issues with it.