Only one prison inspection report has been published in the last five years and no inspections have been conducted in five jails over the last 10 years, the Inspector of Prisons has said.
Patricia Gilheaney said there is a legal requirement to conduct inspections of prisons on a regular basis.
She laid the blame for this failure on a lack of resources and said she believes that her office is “not fit for purpose”.
Ms Gilheaney said no inspections have been conducted by her office on Cork, Portlaoise, Midlands, Cloverhill and Wheatfield prisons in the last 10 years.
They account for half of the country's 10 closed prisons.
Speaking on Today with Sean O'Rourke, the inspector said that when she assumed the position a year ago she became aware that the office, in her opinion, “did not appear to be fit for purpose” for a modern inspectorate.
She said that with the support of officials in the Department of Justice an external review conducted by PA Consulting was commissioned and that she forwarded the report to the minister last December.
“I have some concerns that since the establishment on a statutory footing only one prison inspection report has been published since 2014, that was in 2017,” she said.
She said there has been no prison inspection report from her office in the last 10 years on five prisons.
“It is a legal requirement, under the legislation, that there would be regular inspection of prisons," she said.
“That's not to say there hasn't been visits to prisons but in terms of formalised reports subsequent to formal inspections there are five prisons that haven't had inspections.”
She said this is “down to resources”, saying her office consisted of herself, the deputy inspector Helen Casey and two administrative staff and a budget of €496,000.
Ms Gilheaney said apart from the key role her office plays in conducting inspections, it is also requested by the minister to conduct investigations, including investigations into deaths or prisoners.
She said there have been 75 deaths in prisons or involving prisoners on temporary release, over the last five years and that this year, to date, there have been seven deaths.
She said a dedicated investigation team in the Prisoner Ombudsman for Northern Ireland has five staff and investigates five deaths per year, on average.
Ms Gilheaney said there is “no comparison” in resources.
The inspector also commented on her most recent report, that into the death of an inmate, who was supposed to be on special observation, in Limerick Prison.
That report, which was revealed in the Irish Examiner last Saturday, found that while the prisoner was supposed to have been checked 39 times – every 15 minutes – while under lockup, he was only checked nine times.
She said she is pleased that the Irish Prison Service director general, Caron McCaffrey, has introduced measures across the prison state which will implement recommendations made by the inspector regarding such deaths.