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Written Answers. - Prison Research Project.

Tuesday, 26 November 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 558 No. 1

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 424. Mr. P. McGrath Information on Paul McGrath Zoom on Paul McGrath  asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell  if a request has been received from Amnesty International for permission for a research mission to visit prisons here; the date of this application; the response and the date of this response; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23264/02]

 427. Mr. M. Higgins Information on Michael D. Higgins Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell  the grounds for his refusal and the refusal of his predecessor to co-operate with Amnesty International in its request for access to Irish prisons; his views on the fact that this is a contradiction of the position taken by Ireland on an appropriate United Nations committee; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23358/02]

 435. Mr. Carey Information on Pat Carey Zoom on Pat Carey  asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell  if access to the prison system has been refused by his Department to an Amnesty International research mission which wants to report on racism in prisons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23422/02]

 441. Ms Lynch Information on Kathleen Lynch Zoom on Kathleen Lynch  asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell  the reason Amnesty International is not allowed access to Irish prisons. [23681/02]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell): Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell I propose to take Questions Nos. 424, 427, 435 and 441 together.

A proposal for a research project on racism in Irish prisons has been the subject of correspondence and contact between my Department and both the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) and Amnesty International for some time. The initial application in the matter was contained in a letter of 21 September 2001 from the IPRT to the director general of the Irish Prisons Service.

The director general replied on the same day expressing regret that it was not possible to facilitate the trust on that occasion because a very similar research project was just under way and it would not be fair to people in custody to have two sets of researchers engage with them on similar research at the same time. It has since become apparent that the project proposed by the IPRT would be a joint venture with Amnesty International.

[304]I recognise the valuable work undertaken by Amnesty International in protecting human rights throughout the world and the important contribution of the non-governmental sector in regard to research in prisons. However, in this particular instance I did not consider it appropriate to facilitate overlapping research projects on racism in Irish prisons and I explained my views fully to Amnesty International in correspondence in July and September of this year.

That correspondence indicated that the Irish prison system is already the subject of continuous scrutiny by independent national and international bodies and that the Irish prison service has facilitated several recent independent research projects, including studies undertaken by the IPRT on the use of segregation cells and on the incidence of HIV/hepatitis in the prisoner population. The non-governmental sector will continue to be afforded access to prisoners for the purpose of research in appropriate cases. It is simply the case that, in this particular instance, I did not see merit in duplicating, to a significant degree, research already under way.

As regards the racism research project already in progress, I should say that it, too, is an independent project which is being conducted by the National Training and Development Institute (NTDI) who were selected following a publicly advertised tender competition. The purpose of the research is to provide a basis for a racism awareness programme for prison staff and prisoners. I have given an undertaking that my Department will provide Amnesty International with a copy of the completed NTDI research report as well as information, in due course, on the implementation and evaluation of the subsequent programme.


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