Today is the first time that prisoners have the opportunity to elect the President of Ireland as this is the first Presidential Election since the enactment of the Electoral Amendment Act 2006.
As Liam blogged last week, at the recent Barnardos’ Presidential Debate Olivia O’Leary asked the six candidates present (Dana did not participate) what they could do as President to address the on-going detention of children in adult prisons in Ireland. Before that debate IPRT also wrote to all seven candidates to ask what steps they were taking to engage with prisoners in the course of this campaign, and to ask each candidate to consider the human rights situation in our prisons as a priority issue in the election campaign. The letter can be read here.
We received three answers from Mary Davis, Gay Mitchell and Michael D Higgins:
Thank you for your email and briefing points. I am acutely aware of the position of prisoners specifically in regard to the issues of overcrowding and inhumane sanitary conditions in prisons such as Mountjoy Prison. I recall fondly the work undertaken by prisoners in Mountjoy prior to the Special Olympics World Games in 2003 who made hundreds of flags for the games.
I hope to undertake a Prison visit within the next week as I believe that every person deserves dignity and respect.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
With kindest regards,
Thank you, Liam for your email.
As you may know, Gay has raised the issue of the need for reform of prisons repeatedly throughout the years. He campaigned, for example, for the right of prisoners to vote and was delighted that it was finally granted by the Oireachtas.
The situation in Irish prisons is quite frankly deplorable. Gay's central theme in his campaign is inclusivity and no group is excluded. That will apply in his presidency.
The Fine Gael Campaign Team
Many thanks for your letter and apologies for the delay in this response. As you can imagine I have been quite busy! I hope you are well.
During the course of my career in public life, as Senator, TD and Minister, I have, as you know, often visited prisons and prisoners. I greatly respect the work that the IPRT does and was delighted to speak to you and those in the IPRT during the campaign and speak at a variety of events at which issues related to prisoners were debated. For example, you will recall my concern for the issue of underage prisoners in St Patrick’s Institution.
My concern for those at the margins of society is well known and stretches back many years, and my political outlook and activism has always been motivated by the need to bring about an Ireland, and world, of inclusion.
In terms of prisoners’ issues particularly I have long advocated for the rights of those persons who are incarcerated, especially with regard to such discretion which is denied them in terms of their bodies and space- as well as other issues such as the continued practice of slopping out. I completely share your view that imprisonment ought to be an option of last resort and that crime prevention measures should always take precedence in seeking increased safety in communities.
I will continue, whether elected President or not, to retain an active interest in this field and you may be assured that the issue of human rights, both inside as well as outside of prisons, remains to the forefront of my thinking. Please do stay in touch.
IPRT recognises that all of the candidates have been frantically trying to deal with huge volumes of correspondence over what has been an incredible intense campaign and we acknowledge that some of the campaigns have greater capacity to responds quickly than others. Overall we were greatly encouraged by the themes of inclusiveness and equality used by all candidates and we would be confident that the candidates who were not in a position to respond to our query within the timeframe would support the rights or prisoners. It is also worth remembering that two previous Presidents (De Valera and Sean T. O Ceallaigh) spent time in prison themselves.
IPRT has always been and remains strictly and stubbornly independent of all political parties, and the organisation is not supporting the campaign of any candidate in the Presidential Election 2011. However, in the spirit of transparency and openness we wish to openly state that Michael D Higgins is a patron of IPRT in recognition of his long record in advocating for penal reform and human rights.