19th April 2021
Following the ‘withdrawal of goodwill’ action directed by the Prison Officers' Association on 16th April 2021 in response to uncertainty surrounding vaccination for its members, IPRT has written letters to the Minister for Health, Minister for Justice, Chief Executive Officer of the HSE, Director General of the Irish Prison Service and the Prison Officers Association to request fast resolution and clarification.
IPRT does not take any position on labour relations issues. However, in light of our commitment to protecting the human rights of everyone in the penal system, we have serious concerns about the impact of the action on detained people and their families.
The people who will be adversely affected by this action are men and women in prison, who have already carried a very heavy burden of restrictions throughout the pandemic. A strict adherence to duties by prison officers is likely to impact their already limited out-of-cell time, access to educational and rehabilitative services, and virtual family contact. This action is particularly concerning in light of the planned return of in-person prison education this week (week of 19th April). IPRT is particularly dismayed by comments by the POA today (19th April) that they won't be co-operating with re-opening initiatives in prisons such as prison schools and workshops.
IPRT broadly agrees with the position (as reported) of the POA that frontline prison staff should be prioritised for vaccination. These are men and women who have served as essential frontline workers throughout the pandemic, and who work in crowded settings where social distancing is difficult. However, we remain concerned about the lack of confirmation on the position of the prisoner population on the vaccination allocation schedule. Prisoners must be prioritised for vaccination in line with other people who are under the care of the State. Arbitrarily distinguishing between people in prison and people in every other type of adult congregated setting is unjust. Clarification on whether prisoners and prison staff are included within Category 8 or 9 is long overdue.
The disproportionately higher rates of poor health, chronic health conditions, severe and enduring mental health illness, and other forms of disability among men and women in prison are well established. The increased risks associated with congregated settings, coupled with the significant impacts of COVID-related restrictions on normal prison life, support the urgent need to prioritise vaccination of all people living or working in prisons. (For more on this, see 'Related items' below.)
IPRT calls on all parties to clarify and resolve this issue with urgency.