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Ombudsman calls for extension of remit to include prisons

4th February 2011

The Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly is lobbying the prospective leaders of the next government for an expanded role for her office, including the extension of the Ombudsman's remit to include prisons. IPRT fully supports this call.

In Developing and Optimising the Role of the Ombudsman, published 3rd Feb 2011, Ms. O'Reilly makes four specific proposals. One is the extension of the Ombudsman remit to include the prisons and all issues relating to immigration, refugees, asylum seekers and naturalisation. In relation to the proposed extension of her remit, the Ombudsman said there had “never been any good reason” why these areas had remained outside the ombudsman’s jurisdiction, which are a central element of the ombudsman’s remit in other countries.

Monitoring and inspection of places of detention, as well as the establishment of an independent external mechanism for the review of prisoners’ complaints, are central to the protection of human rights of prisoners and form part of Ireland’s obligations under international law.

Prisons Visiting Committees and the Inspector of Prisons are appointed by, and report to, the Minister for Justice and Law Reform, and not to the Oireachtas. Therefore, prisoners do not currently have access to an independent complaints mechanism.

The situation is the same for children held in St. Patrick’s Institution. Children so held have no access to an independent complaints mechanism, unlike children in the Children Detention Schools. These are very vulnerable children, so this is of very serious concern.

The Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan, has consistently called for the extension of her remit to include individual complaints from children held in St Patrick's. Exclusions from the OCO remit apply to only three groups: children held in prison, children in the Defence Forces, and children in dealings with the Gardaí. However, while an Ombudsman for the Defence Forces and a Garda Ombudsman both exist, there is no Prisoner Ombudsman.

IPRT supports the call of both the Ombudsman and the Ombudsman for Children for the extension of their respective remits to include complaints from adult prisoners and children detained in St Patrick's Institution, thus moving towards the fulfillment of Ireland's human rights obligations.

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