'Unacceptable:' Taoiseach seeks report after solicitor asked to remove underwear to visit client in prison

'Unacceptable:' Taoiseach seeks report after solicitor asked to remove underwear to visit client in prison

Responding in the Dáil to a question from Mary Lou McDonald, Mr Martin said he has sought a report from the Justice Minister Heather Humphreys as to the circumstances as to what transpired.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has described as “shocking and unacceptable” reports that a female solicitor was made remove her bra in order to enter a prison to see a client.

Responding in the Dáil to a question from Mary Lou McDonald, Mr Martin said he has sought a report from the Justice Minister Heather Humphreys on the incident. 

Ms McDonald was referring to details of a story in Tuesday’s Irish Examinerwhich detailed a complaint from a female counsel who says she was forced to remove her bra in order to attend an urgent meeting with her client in Cloverhill Prison, Dublin.

The woman said she was humiliated and traumatised by the incident which took place in front of four male guards and a male senior counsel.

Mr Martin said: “I think it's quite shocking, what happened, and unacceptable.” 

“I was very struck when I saw the headlines on that this morning”.

“I will be asking the Minister for Justice for a report on this and to see what exactly transpired here, what is the policy, what are the practices,” he said.

He said the incident should not have happened.

“And I can understand fully why the woman in question would have felt her dignity was taken from her and felt undermined by the request. It is simply not good enough in any shape or form and needs to be addressed,” he said.

Ms McDonald said this isn't a 'run of the mill' complaint 
Ms McDonald said this isn't a 'run of the mill' complaint 

Ms McDonald said there "are so many things wrong" with the incident and called on the Irish Prison Service to provide a fuller response. 

"This, in my view, isn't just a run of the mill complaint to be dealt with solely within normal procedures.

"I believe this warrants a wider and a very full review of the prison's culture and practices to ensure that this type of degrading treatment of any woman never happens again."

The Irish Prison Service (IPS) said today that "it is not the policy of the Irish Prison Service to request any person to remove under garments in order to gain admittance to a prison.

The IPS said it does not condone behaviour contrary to their standards of courtesy which may put at risk the rights of people to be treated "with dignity and respect."

The solicitor stated that she was 'subject to a degrading incident' in Cloverhill Prison. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire
The solicitor stated that she was 'subject to a degrading incident' in Cloverhill Prison. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire

In a written complaint to the Irish Prison Service, seen by the Irish Examiner, the solicitor stated that on June 11, 2020, she was "subject to a degrading incident" in Cloverhill Prison.

On approach to the search area, the alarm sounded as the solicitor passed through the security monitor, where she was directed to take off her shoes, earrings, watch, and jacket, with which she complied.

However, as she passed through a second time the monitor sounded again and she alleged in her complaint that one man, in a group of male prison officers, asked, "are you wearing any underwear?", going on to state this was the reason the alarm was sounding.

The solicitor said she was then told she would not be able to enter the prison if the monitor continued to sound, "so I would have to take my underwear off had I wanted to gain access".

Because the visit was urgent and regarded bail proceedings, the woman said she had "no option other than to comply with their condition on my entry".

"At this stage, I was absolutely horrified by what was happening," she said.

I felt extremely embarrassed and very exploited."

Another guard told the woman she could go to the bathroom and remove her bra there.

"Not only did I feel extremely vulnerable and targeted as a woman I felt humiliated that my dignity had been so casually torn from me," she added.

The woman said she was "close to crying because of how powerless they made me feel" and attempted to cover herself with her jacket for the remainder of the visit.

"I have attended many prisons over the past number of years, and I have never ever been treated in such a degrading manner," she said, adding she drove home in tears after "undoubtedly one of the most traumatic experiences of my life".

She said she has been left "unable to effectively consult with this client" and the incident has severely damaged her relationship with the barrister present.

She felt "dirty and exploited".

'Lost confidence'

"I fear I will carry this with me for a long time and the confidence I have lost in my professional capacity has not been restored," the statement reads, adding she has not attended a prison visit since.

"I am writing this statement because I do not want any woman to feel deterred from fulfilling their role as a legal representative by being treated in such a way by the Irish Prison Service."

The solicitor later found out a male colleague had previously attended to visit the same client and the alarm sounded three times on passing through the scanner. At no stage was any such request made of him and he was admitted entry.

She says she will seek a meeting with acting Justice Minister Heather Humphreys to discuss the incident.

A spokesperson for the Irish Prison Service said: "The Irish Prison Service does not comment on internal matters; however, the Prison Service can confirm a complaint was received and investigated."

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