8 June 2016

The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald, TD, said that the report of the Inspector of Prisons on the prisoner complaints system “Review, Evaluation and Analysis of the Operation of the present Irish Prison Service Complaints Procedure” had identified a number of significant concerns regarding implementation of the complaints procedure in prisons.

The Tánaiste said: “It is clear that more needs to be done before we have a system that will gain the full confidence of staff, prisoners and the general public.

“I accept the Inspector’s main recommendation that the Ombudsman should be given a role in the process and my officials will be progressing this with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

“The Inspector made it clear to me that he considered the Irish Prison Service has to retain a central role in the complaints process but with independent oversight. He is satisfied that a fair and effective complaints procedure could be achieved with the implementation of his recommendations.”

The Tánaiste has met the Inspector of Prisons to discuss his findings. She also had a separate meeting with Director General of the Irish Prison Service to discuss the report’s recommendations.

The report recommends that prisoners would be allowed to refer complaints to the Ombudsman for review who would also be able to deal with complaints directly in the case of undue delay.

One of the failings identified by the Inspector was not maintaining comprehensive records in good order. In one particular case it is stated that “No evidence in the prison records made available to me that a complaint of alleged rape was referred to An Garda Síochána for investigation...”

The Irish Prison Service was able to confirm that this complaint had been referred to the Garda Síochána as would be standard practice in such cases. The Tánaiste said: “It is extremely regrettable that a record of this referral was not included in the papers provided to the Inspector at the time. The complaint itself was the subject of an IPS investigation and based on the report of that investigation, the appropriate Governor was satisfied that the allegations were unfounded".

The statutory complaints procedure was introduced in 2013 following on from recommendations made by the Inspector in 2012. This was an improvement over the pre-existing procedures and provided for an independent element in the investigation of serious complaints.

A copy of the report can be accessed by clicking on the following link:

www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/Review-Evaluation-and-Analysis-of-the-Operation-of-the-present-Irish-Prison-Service-Prisoner-Complaints-Procedure-April-2016

ENDS

 

Note to Editors:

Other recommendations include:

· The Inspector recommends that complaints would also be categorised as either serious Category A or minor Category B and this is accepted.

· A robust investigative mechanism must be put in place, in prisons, to ensure the proper investigation of Category A complaints.” The Tánaiste fully accepts this but is concerned that replacing external investigators with an internal Irish Prison Service team of investigators might give rise to a perception of bias. She has directed that more training be provided for external investigators and that this independent investigative element be maintained for a 12 month period and then reviewed.

· The recommendations regarding resolving minor complaints at the lowest level, allowing prisoners make complaints to relevant professional bodies, that prisoners should be entitled to an explanation for decisions made affecting them, that frivolous and vexatious complaints must be addressed and fair procedures should apply were fully accepted.

· Similarly the recommendations on adequate training, adhering to protocols and statutory obligations, holding staff to account, not hindering the complaints procedure and having an effective communication system are accepted.

· As regards recommendation 16, the Tánaiste specifically asked the Inspector to keep the complaints procedure under review and to give her regular reports. She also was emphatic that the rights of all prisoners including vulnerable prisoners have to be promoted and an effective complaints system is just one aspect of achieving this goal.

While some amendment to secondary legislation may be required, it is not envisaged that primary legislation would be required.