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14th May 2016


For immediate release

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), Ireland’s leading campaign organisation for the protection against potential human rights violations behind bars, has today (Saturday 14th May 2016) welcomed the Government’s acceptance of recommendations received at the U.N. in Geneva on prisons and places of detention, including reaffirmation of its commitment to ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OP-CAT).

In order to meet this commitment on OP-CAT, a number of glaring gaps in prisons accountability need to be addressed, including the current lack of a fully independent complaints mechanism for prisoners. To this end, IPRT is now calling on the Minister for Justice and Equality to publish the Inspector of Prisons’ review of the prison complaints procedure, and to progress discussions around of the establishment of an external prisoner complaints mechanism with urgency. 

Speaking on publication of the Government’s response, Deirdre Malone, Executive Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, said:

“Ireland received 37 recommendations from UN delegations on strengthening accountability, improving prison conditions, and ending detention of children in adult prisons. However, the Programme for Partnership Government is silent on all of these issues. A clear commitment from the Tánaiste to a timeline for implementation of the recommendations would build assurance that it will be achieved during this Government.”

“In her previous role as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, the Tánaiste made history by addressing critical human rights issues for children in the criminal justice system, including extending the remit of the Ombudsman for Children to include children in adult prison facilities. There is an opportunity now to build on this record of achievement by extending the highest standards of accountability to the adult prison system too.”

“The continuing lack of an independent complaints system for prisoners is a glaring gap in Irish law that presents an obstacle to the Government's repeated commitments to ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture (OP-CAT). While IPRT welcomed discussions this week around the potential extension of the general Ombudsman’s remit to include prisoner complaints, this would depend on adequate resources in terms of finance and expertise – including an understanding of the impact that being in prison has on a person’s ability to make a complaint.” 

“It is crucial that prison staff also have confidence in any external system of prisoner complaints. Robust and effective independent make prisons work better, and they make prisons safer. They should not be feared.”

Recommendations relating to detention were received from 37 peer States during Ireland’s second UN Universal Periodic Review in Geneva this week. Other recommendations which were accepted by the Government include, inter alia, improvement of prison conditions; the separation of remand, sentenced, and juvenile prisoners; and investigation of incidences of abuse by officials against prisoners. 

Unlike the Programme for Government 2011-2016, no commitments to strengthen prisons accountability have been included in the Programme for Partnership Government published 11th May 2016. Therefore, IPRT is now making the following calls towards improved transparency and accountability in the Irish penal system:

  • IPRT calls on the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice to publish the Inspector of Prisons’ review of the internal prison complaints procedure, so that the findings may inform discussions;
  • IPRT calls on the Government to consider the establishment of an independent Office of Prisoner Ombudsman or extend the remit of the general Ombudsman to investigate prisoners’ complaints, which is adequately resourced;
  • IPRT calls on the Government to ratify without delay the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture, and to establish effective National Preventative Mechanisms (NPM) under the Protocol, in which the proposed external prisoner complaints mechanism should play a vital role, together with the Inspector of Prisons and reformed and strengthened Prison Visiting Committees;
  • Finally, IPRT also calls on the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality to restate previous commitments to place the Parole Board on an independent statutory basis.

For further comment and/or an interview with Deirdre Malone, please contact: Fíona Ní Chinnéide on 087 181 2990 


1. What is the OP-CAT?

The OP-CAT is a key monitoring mechanism for the prevention of torture, inhumane and degrading treatment in all places of detention, including: prisons, Garda stations, psychiatric institutions, children detention schools, military facilities, and airports. It requires the creation of a national detention monitoring body, which has multidisciplinary expertise and which is functionally independent of Government, with financial autonomy. For a clear explanation of the OP-CAT, see: http://apt.ch/en/what-is-the-opcat/

Ireland received recommendations to ratify OP-CAT from over 20 states during its second UN Universal Periodic Review, which took place earlier this week in Geneva. More than 80 States internationally have already ratified OPCAT.

2. Ireland and the OP-CAT

Ireland signed the OP-CAT in 2007 but, despite commitments previous commitments, has so far failed to ratify the treaty. The outgoing Government committed to ratification of OP-CAT by way of the proposed 'Inspection of Places of Detention Bill', with the purpose: “To give legislative effect to the OPCAT, strengthen Prisons Inspectorate, put Council of Europe inspection regime on a statutory footing and address matters relating to Prison Visiting Committees.” The legislation remained on the C list of legislation until the Government was dissolved in February 2016.

3. Prisons and the Office of the Ombudsman of Ireland

On Thurs 12th May 2016, Ombudsman Peter Tyndall welcomed the recommendation by Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, that the Ombudsman be given the powers to investigate complaints from prisoners. Judge Reilly was speaking at 'The Ombudsman behind Bars' conference in Dublin on Thursday 12 May. The conference heard that Ireland is breaching human rights by not allowing adult prisoners have their complaints independently investigated. See: http://www.ombudsman.gov.ie/en/News/Media-Releases/2016-Media-Releases/Prisoners-complaints.html

4. Inspector of Prisons: Review of Prisoner Complaints Procedure

In November 2015, Minister Fitzgerald stated that “[a]s part of his oversight of the complaints process, the Inspector is in the process of reviewing the prisoner complaints procedure currently in operation and the outcome of that review will be presented to me on completion.” (Source: Dáil Question, 11th November 2015: https://www.kildarestreet.com/wrans/?id=2015-11-11a.304) As of 14th May 2016, the report has not yet been published.

5. IPRT: Complaints, Monitoring and Inspection in Prisons

In 2009, IPRT published a Position Paper assessing the current complaints and investigation structures in Ireland against international human rights standards and obligations, and makes a series of recommendations, including a call for the establishment of an Office of Prisoner Ombudsman to deal with individual complaints.

  • Download IPRT Briefing (2-page summary) here.
  • Download IPRT Position Paper here
6. Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) | www.iprt.ie

IPRT is Ireland's leading non-governmental organisation campaigning for the rights of everyone in prison and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy, with prison as a last resort.

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