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The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter announced the publication of the most recent report on Mountjoy Prison by the Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, which was presented to the Minister on March 24 2011.

The Inspector has reported a sea change for the better in many aspects of the prison, particularly as regards cleanliness and hygiene. The Minister would like to compliment the prison staff working in Mountjoy and especially the new Governor Mr. Ned Whelan for the work done in improving conditions in the prison and for implementing the recommendations of the Inspector.

Excessive use of force

An issue of major concern raised in the report is that the management response to allegations of excessive use of force by prison officers has been less than satisfactory in the past. The Minister wants to make it clear that a culture of impunity cannot be allowed to develop in our prison system. Prison officers do a difficult job but abuse of their position is not acceptable. The Inspector acknowledges that the Director General of the Irish Prison Service has taken prompt action in addressing the issue of serious complaints by prisoners. The Director General has now implemented all the recommendations of the Inspector and of the enquiry team established to look into the matter. This includes the necessity to keep proper medical and other records. Within the next month the Minister intends to place on a statutory footing new procedures for the investigation of serious complaints by prisoners. This will include provision for prison officers to wear identification.

Investigations are ongoing in relation to the specific cases referred to in Paragraph 3.17 of the Report and it would not be appropriate to make any comment on the details of the incidents.

Inspector’s recommendations

The Inspector made a number of other recommendations all of which are being pursued. As recommended, a value for money audit of the educational services is underway. The Irish Prison Service are also examining options to provide more treatment facilities and drug free units in the Mountjoy complex and will continue to take vigorous measures to prevent drugs being brought into Mountjoy. A refurbishment project is also under way in the basement of the C–wing at Mountjoy prison.

New committee

The Programme for Government states that “we will review the proposal to build a new prison at Thornton Hall and consider alternatives, if any, to avoid the costs yet to be incurred by the State in building such a new prison.” The Minister announced that he has established a four person committee to examine the need for new prison accommodation and to advise by July 1 2011 whether work on the site at Thornton should proceed. The Minister speaking on the formation of this new committee said “This review will be expeditious and cost effective and I intend to publish this review once it has been completed.”

The new committee members are

  • Brendan Murtagh – a partner in LHM Casey McGrath
  • Tom Cooney – Lecturer in Law UCD and now advisor to the Minister
  • Brian Purcell – Director General of the Irish Prison Service.
  • Catherine McGuinness – retired President of the Law Reform Commission