Penal reformers have called for reform of the Parole Board, saying the current system of appointment by the minister for justice undermines its independence.
The call comes after it emerged that the retired representative of the Prison Service on the board has been re-appointed by Justice Minister Alan Shatter as a representative of the community.
The Parole Board assesses applications by serious offenders who are entitled to be considered for release and makes recommendations to the minister.
The board is made up of senior representatives from official bodies, including the Department of Justice, prison service and probation service, as well as representatives from the community.
Willie Connolly was the representative of the Irish Prison Service on the board but retired last February. He was director of operations at the prison service when he retired.
Just over a week ago he was re-appointed to the board as a community representative by Mr Shatter.
“The ECHR [European Convention of Human Rights] requires a parole system where decisions on release of prisoners are taken by a body that is fully independent of government,” said Liam Herrick, executive director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust.
“Clearly the current system of ministerial appointment of the Parole Board does not meet the requirement of independence.
“The justification offered for the make up of the current Parole Board is that there is a balance between representatives of State agencies and members of the public,” he said.
“It is hard to see how that argument stands up where the prison service representative on the board retires and is reappointed as a community representative.”
He said there was no question regarding Mr Connolly, who was “perfectly and expertly qualified” to be in the position he was in on the board before he retired.
Mr Herrick said a statutory, properly independent, board was urgently needed.
A spokesman for the Department of Justice said expertise among board members was crucial in interviewing inmates for parole.
“A key element of board membership is interviewing prisoners prior to case reviews and in this regard experience and knowledge are considered invaluable,” he said.
He said Mr Connolly’s appointment as a community representative continued an existing practice.
He said Mr Connolly replaced Frank McCarthy, who was a former prison governor and a long standing member of the board.
The spokesman said Mr Connolly was one of four recent appointments, including Eddie Rock, a former Garda assistant commissioner. He replaced the late Pat Crummy, who was also a former assistant commissioner. Another replacement included Nora McGarry, who is chief executive of the Kerry Diocesan Youth Service.
The spokesman said the minister had announced plans to place the Parole Board on a statutory basis.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved