HSE may take over prison healthcare

Head of the Irish Prison Service Michael Donnellan

The possibility of the HSE running prison healthcare services instead of the Irish Prison Service (IPS) is currently under discussion, the UN Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) has heard.

Responding to queries from committee members yesterday, head of the IPS Michael Donnellan said they had held meetings with the Departments of Justice and Health to examine how this might happen against the backdrop of an independent review.

The IPS strategic plan 2016-18 states it will “seek cross-departmental endorsement of the [Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture] recommendation that prison healthcare services be brought under the responsibility of the Department of Health and operated by the HSE”.

UNCAT chairman Jens Modvig asked about a timetable for the review “and if it prompts structural changes, when will they start?”.

Mr Donnellan said meetings had already taken place with government officials but that they would first need to identify the resources involved in “considering whether it should be transferred or not”.

The transfer of responsibility was recommended in a report by the late Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael O’Reilly, published in February, in which he said resources “cannot be used as an excuse for delaying such transfer of responsibility”.

More than 20 Irish civil servants and diplomats appeared before the UNCAT in Geneva over a two-day period where they underwent a comprehensive grilling on various human rights issues, ranging from treatment of prisoners to how the State compensated women who had worked in Magdalene laundries or resided in mother and baby homes.

It also looked at domestic violence and queried why there had never been a follow-up to the 2002 SAVI report, the only national report to look at sexual abuse and violence in Ireland.

The excuse given by an Irish official — that expenditure on another SAVI report (circa €1m) “might not be best use of taxpayers’ money” but that it was “being considered” — was not accepted.

The Irish delegation was also quizzed about Caranua, set up in 2012, which uses funds from religious congregations to cater for the needs of survivors of abuse in religious-run residential institutions. The committee heard that when €110m in funding had been expended, Caranua would be dissolved.

Asked if the State would consider putting more money “so the project can continue”, the Irish response was that other services, such as counselling, would continue to be available.

At the end of the grilling, minister of state for justice David Stanton told UNCAT: “We still view you as a critical friend, an essential critical friend.”

As a follow-up to the review, the second in six years, Ireland will be required to submit a reply within a year.

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