IPRT - Irish Penal Reform Trust

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Human Rights Groups call for urgent action to address human rights deficit in Irish prisons

4th September 2006

In the wake of three deaths in Mountjoy Prison in August, the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) are calling upon the Government to act immediately to bring Ireland's system of prison inspection and monitoring into line with European norms. The human rights organisations are highlighting four specific areas requiring action to ensure that Ireland becomes compliant with its obligations under international human rights law.

"The three deaths in Mountjoy over the past month are a tragic illustration of the urgent need for independent monitoring mechanisms in Irish prisons," said Rick Lines, Executive Director of the IPRT.

The organisations are calling for the immediate establishment of a fully independent investigation into the recent deaths at Mountjoy.  "An 'in-house' investigation by the Department of Justice cannot be said to be independent and fails to meet our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights," said Mr. Lines.

In addition, the IPRT and ICCL are calling upon the Government to bring forward legislation in the upcoming Dáil session to place Irish prison monitoring systems on a par with those in neighbouring jurisdictions.  This must include:

  1. Legislation to place the Inspector of Prisons on a fully independent and statutory footing, with sufficient human and financial resources to adequately monitor prison regimes.
  2. Legislation to create an Ombudsman for Prisons with the authority to accept and independently investigate individual complaints from prisoners.
  3. Ratification of the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Torture (OPCAT), which would oblige the State to ensure that national monitoring of places of detention is effective and independent.
Mr. Mark Kelly, Director of the ICCL, recalled that "the prison systems in Northern Ireland, England & Wales and Scotland are subject to scrutiny by independent Prisons Ombudsmen, and by Inspectorates with clear statutory powers. In addition, the British Government has ratified the UN Optional Protocol.  In view of its obligations under the Good Friday Agreement and international human rights law, Ireland cannot afford to be left behind." 

"Prison monitoring is essential to ensure that adequate minimum human rights standards are maintained in prisons and other places of detention.  It also serves as the eyes and ears of the public, and is critical for ensuring accountability and transparency of the Prison Service," added Mr. Lines.

"The ongoing failure of the Minister for Justice to establish proper systems of monitoring means that this important and expensive public service continues to operate largely in secret, and without the type of oversight the public has a right to expect," he said.