In a joint statement released today (Wednesday 10 October 2007), the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) and the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) welcomed the Government's decision to publish the latest report by the Council of Europe's human rights watchdog, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), together with the Government's response.
However, both organisations expressed grave concern about the CPT's finding that the summer 2006 killing of an inmate by a fellow prisoner in Mountjoy Prison was "a tragic illustration of the unsafe nature of certain prisons in Ireland".
The Committee's report describes a prison culture that is "conducive to inter-prisoner intimidation and violence" and concludes that "at least three of the prison establishments visited can be considered as unsafe, both for prisoners and for prison staff (notably, Limerick and Mountjoy Prisons and even St. Patrick's Institution)" (see paragraph 38 of the report).
During its visit in October 2006, the CPT also found that conditions of detention remained "degrading" in the main accommodation blocks in Cork and Mountjoy Prisons, and in A and B Wings of Limerick Prison. In particular, prisoners held in these locations were still obliged to defecate in chamber pots in the presence of other inmates, in the cells in which they lived (see paragraph 56 of the report).
Speaking shortly after the publication of the report, Dr Ursula Kilkelly, Chair of the Irish Penal Reform Trust said:
"The IPRT and the ICCL welcome the publication of this hard-hitting report. The CPT has found that Irish prisons operate outside international standards in many areas with the result that the State is failing to protect prisoners from harm.
It also makes it clear that the new prison building programme will not in itself address these problems. In this regard, it is significant that the CPT supports the introduction of an independent complaints mechanism, such as an Ombudsman, to ensure that all prisoner's concerns and complaints can be addressed effectively.
As regards the Gardai, the CPT acknowledges that a majority of the persons whom it met made no complaints about the manner in which they were treated while in Garda custody. However, it adds that "as had been the case during previous visits, a considerable number of persons did allege verbal and/ or physical ill-treatment by Gardai. The alleged ill-treatment consisted mostly of kicks, punches and blows with batons to various parts of the body. [...] In a number of cases, the delegation's medical doctors found that the persons concerned displayed injuries and scars which were consistent with their allegations of ill-treatment" (see paragraph 15 of the report).
Reacting to these findings, ICCL Director Mark Kelly said:
"This CPT report is a salutary reminder that further action is needed to stamp out the problem of verbal and physical ill-treatment by members of An Garda Síochána.
The creation of new accountability mechanisms such as the Garda Ombudsman Commission is a step in the right direction. However, it is not a substitute for human rights proofing all existing Garda policies and practices, especially on sensitive issues such as the use of force. The ICCL is also calling for the introduction of a human rights monitoring framework - similar to that which already exists in Northern Ireland - to enable future Garda conduct to be assessed against the highest international standards."