27th July 2022
The Irish Penal Reform Trust has today (Wed 27 July 2022) welcomed the clear focus by the UN Human Rights Committee on issues pertaining to people deprived of their liberty including prison overcrowding, access to adequate mental healthcare, the failure to publish reports relating to the Dóchas Centre, the overrepresentation of Travellers in the penal system and the need to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT).
Echoing its 2014 recommendation, the Human Rights Committee again called on the State to “take the necessary steps to ensure that all persons deprived of their liberty have access to an independent and effective complaints mechanism to investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment”.
The Committee has also recommended that overcrowding in prisons should be eliminated by “continuing… efforts to resort to non-custodial alternative measures to detention, especially in relation to persons who default on their court-imposed fines”.
Other key recommendations include refraining from imposing solitary confinement, except in the most exceptional circumstances and for strictly limited periods, continued improvements to in-cell sanitation, diversion for people with psychosocial disabilities and using preventative measures to reduce the number of people in prison with a mental health issue.
The recommendations were included in the UN Human Rights Committee’s Concluding observations on the fifth periodic report of Ireland, published today. The recommendations follow the State’s examination under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in Geneva on 4 and 5 July 2022.
Responding to the recommendations, Saoirse Brady, Executive Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), said:
“The Committee was clear and unequivocal about the need for systemic improvements in the penal system overall. While it noted some improvements since the last examination in 2014, many of the same issues still persist.
“While we are closer than ever before to ratifying OPCAT with draft legislation published last month, the Committee has again called on the State to proceed with its efforts to ratify the Protocol. There is an opportunity to put in place an effective mechanism to prevent torture, degrading and ill treatment happening behind the closed walls of a prison. We must ensure that debate around the Bill is robust and it delivers for the people who need it most. In the meantime, immediate ratification of OPCAT would signal a clear commitment to ensuring this is a government priority.
“IPRT echoes the Committee’s concern at the lack of a fully independent complaints system for prisoners. This is long overdue and a system that is independent and effective would protect the rights of both prisoners and staff, ease tensions, and ensure full accountability.
“We welcome the Committee’s call to eliminate overcrowding in prison. While we saw vast improvements and reductions in prison numbers during the pandemic, since May 2022 the number of people in custody on any given day has been over 4,000. The focus on diversion and non-custodial alternative measures is not only important but crucial to bring down the number of people who are needlessly sent to prison for minor offences including the non-payment of fines”.
The Committee also drew attention to the “lack of transparency and reiterated refusal to publish the Dóchas reports”. This refers to a three-day monitoring report and section 31(2) investigation report into the Dóchas Centre from the Inspector of Prisons. Ms Brady noted in this regard:
“The ongoing failure to publish the Inspector of Prison reports relating to the Dóchas Centre is symptomatic of a bigger issue with accountability and transparency. IPRT continues to call for publication of these reports without further delay. We also hope the new legislation will provide the independence needed to ensure that the newly appointed Chief Inspector of Prisons will be able to publish all of his office’s inspection reports without having to seek the permission of the Minister”.
Finally, in responding to the Committee’s calls for adequate mental healthcare for prisoners and increased diversion of people with serious mental health issues away from the penal system, Ms Brady stated:
“Given that people in prison are much more likely to have a mental health illness, yet have little to no access to necessary treatment, this is a clear violation of their rights and action must be taken to address this issue urgently. We hope that the forthcoming High Level Task Force report on the Mental Health and Addiction Challenges of People Interacting with the Criminal Justice System will provide a clear action plan with timelines and allocated resources to comply with the Committee’s recommendations”.
IPRT made written and oral submissions to the UN Human Rights Committee in advance of Ireland’s hearing under the ICCPR, and travelled to Geneva on 4 July 2022 as part of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties led delegation of civil society organisations.
For all media enquiries or for interviews requests, please contact Saoirse on 087 181 2990
NOTES FOR EDITORS
1. UN Human Rights Committee’s Concluding Observations on Ireland:
The Concluding Observations were published on Wed 27 July 2022, and address ‘Treatment of persons deprived of their liberty’ (para.35) and the overrepresentation of Travellers in the penal system (para.39): https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CCPR/Shared%20Documents/IRL/CCPR_C_IRL_CO_5_49292_E.pdf
2. IPRT Submission to the Human Rights Committee
IPRT made a Submission to the Human Rights Committee in advance of Ireland’s Fifth Periodic Examination of Ireland under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in May 2022. Available at: https://www.iprt.ie/iprt-submissions/alternative-report-on-irelands-fifth-review-under-iccpr/
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties, in partnership with colleagues, submitted a detailed ‘Shadow Report’ of human rights issues in Ireland to the Committee in advance of the hearings, available at: https://www.iccl.ie/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/ICCL-report-to-UN-Human-Rights-Committee-2022.pdf
3. IPRT in Geneva
IPRT travelled to Geneva as part of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties led delegation of civil society groups on 4 July 2022, which facilitated the provision of information to the UN Human Rights Committee members via oral and written statements by civil society.
Other members of the delegation included: Pavee Point; National Traveller Women’s Forum; Movement of Asylum Seekers Ireland; Irish Traveller Movement; European Centre for the Study of Hate (Irish Travellers Access to Justice); and Justice for Magdalenes Research and the Clann Project.
4. 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.
Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.