Irish Penal Reform Trust

UN: Independent Prisoner Complaints System is Essential to the Prevention of Torture and Ill-treatment

6th June 2011


Independent Prisoner Complaints System is Essential to the Prevention of Torture and Ill-treatment in Prisons, UN Committee tells Ireland

The UN Committee Against Torture, issuing the concluding observations of its first examination of Ireland, has expressed “deep concern” at the level of overcrowding in the prison system and called for urgent action to end slopping out and to establish an independent system for investigating prisoner complaints. The Committee is also “gravely concerned” at the ongoing detention of 16 and 17 year olds in St Patrick's Institution, and has called on the State to confer on the Ombudsman for Children the power to receive individual complaints from children held at St Patrick's.

Speaking today, IPRT Executive Director Liam Herrick said:

“The expert UN Committee has made clear that an independent system for investigating complaints by prisoners is the most important protection against potential mistreatment of persons in detention. The Committee has given an unambiguous direction to the Government to establish an independent and effective complaints body, such as a prison ombudsman, and to ensure that prisoners are protected against any intimidation or reprisals as a consequence of the complaints.

"We have seen from the Garda Ombudsman and from the work of prison ombudsman bodies in Britain and in Northern Ireland that there is no substitute for independent investigation mechanisms to protect against potential mistreatment.”

The high rate of inter-prisoner violence within the Irish system is highlighted by the Committee as a particular concern and the Committee has issued specific directions to the Government to address the contributing factors such as the availability of drugs, the existence of feuding gangs, lack of purposeful activities, lack of space and poor material conditions; alongside a call to investigate allegations of racism against Traveller prisoners. The Committee also made recommendations to ensure that prison officers receive comprehensive training about their human rights obligations regarding the prevention of mistreatment of prisoners.

The Committee also made an urgent call on the Government to proceed “without delay” with the construction of the new child detention facility at Lusk and to end the detention of children at St. Patrick’s Institution, and to extend the power of Ombudsman for Children to receive complaints from children in prison.

“The Committee’s strong recommendation to end the detention of children in prison should now lead to firm commitment from Government that the necessary funds will be made available to complete the construction project at Lusk that has been delayed for several years now."

A number of other aspects of the prison system which gave rise to particular concern for the Committee, include the need to improve general healthcare services in the prisons; to separate remand from convicted prisoners; and the need to regulate more closely the use of “special cells” for vulnerable or mentally ill prisoners. In recognising that overcrowding was a central problem in the prison system, the UN Committee makes clear that Government must “adopt” a policy focussing on the development of alternative, non-custodial sanctions to reduce the numbers in custody.

Among the other issues addressed by the Committee in its observations were:

  • Funding for and independence of the Irish Human Rights Commission
  • Extraordinary rendition
  • The low rate of recognition in the asylum process
  • The operation of the Garda Ombudsman Commission
  • Investigation of abuses in institutional care, including the position of those detained in Magdalene laundries
  • Corporal punishment
  • Female Genital Mutilation
  • Domestic violence

For all media enquiries, or to arrange an interview, contact:

Fíona Ní Chinnéide, Campaigns & Communications Officer Irish Penal Reform Trust at 01 874 1400 or    

The UNCAT Concluding Observations also detail concerns with regard to a number of areas. For comment on other areas of the report, contact:

  • Irish Council for Civil Liberties: Walter Jayawardene, Communications Manager – 087 998 1574
  • Amnesty International Ireland: Noeleen Hartigan, Programmes Director – 087 616 7689
  • Irish Refugee Council: Sharon Waters, Communications Officer – 085 133 2502
  • Spirasi: Greg Straton, Interim Director - 01 8823518


1. Ireland’s Examination under the UN CAT

On 6 June 2011 the UN Committee against Torture published its concluding observations on Ireland’s compliance with the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. These observations form a list of essential improvements which the Irish State will have to undertake in the coming years. The Concluding Observations are available here.

The observations follow Ireland’s first examination by the UN Committee Against Torture on the extent to which it is meeting its human rights obligations under the Convention against Torture; the examination took place in Geneva on 23 and 24 May, 2011. A high-level government delegation took part in the public hearing in front of the UN Committee against Torture. This hearing was webcast by IPRT/ICCL, and can be viewed here.

2. Joint Shadow Report on the UN CAT

The Joint Shadow Report to the First Periodic Review of Ireland under the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment was published by ICCL and IPRT, in consultation with other groups, and endorsed by 31 Irish NGO’s. The Joint Shadow Report is available for download here.

3. Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) |

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.

4. Irish Council for Civil Liberties | 

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) is Ireland’s leading independent human rights watchdog, which monitors, educates and campaigns in order to secure full enjoyment of human rights for everyone.

5. Spirasi |

SPIRASI is a humanitarian, intercultural, non-governmental organisation that works with asylum seekers, refugees and other disadvantaged migrant groups, with special concern for survivors of torture. In partnership with others, SPIRASI enables access to specialist services to promote the well-being of the human person, and encourages self-reliance and integration into Ireland.

6. Amnesty International Ireland |

Amnesty International Ireland is the country’s largest human rights organisation with over 15,000 members and supporters. Its sole concern is the protection of the fundamental human rights guaranteed to each one of us by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Amnesty International Ireland takes part in three global campaigns; against torture and terror, to end FGM and to abolish the death penalty.

Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.



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