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Written Answers. - Prison Visiting Committees.

Tuesday, 3 December 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 558 No. 4

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 382. Mr. J. O'Keeffe Information on Jim O'Keeffe Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell  his views on whether visiting committees, as currently constituted, make useful contributions to the welfare of prisoners; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24805/02]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell): Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell A visiting committee is appointed to each prison under the Prisons (Visiting Committees) Act, 1925, and Prisons (Visiting Committees) Order, 1925. The function of visiting committees is to visit at frequent intervals the prison to which they are appointed and hear any complaints which may be made to them by any prisoner. They report to me any abuses observed or found by them in the prison and any repairs which they think may be urgently needed. The visiting committees have free access either collectively or individually to every part of their prison. In inspecting prisons, the visiting committees focus on issues such as the quality of accommodation and the catering, medical, educational and welfare services and recreational facilities. The committees also submit annual reports to me which are subsequently published.

Members are appointed for a period of three years. The maximum number that can be appointed for each institution is 12. Each committee elects its own chairperson. Persons wishing to serve on a visiting committee can make representation to nominate themselves or can be nominated by another person. No person can become a member of a visiting committee if they are in receipt of a salary paid out of the central fund other than a Member of Dáil Éireann or Seanad Éireann. Members of visiting committees do not receive remuneration. Travel and subsistence allowances are paid in line with Civil Service rates. There are no specific criteria used in selecting individuals for appointment. The composition of each committee is drawn from as wide a spectrum as possible to ensure that the needs of prisoners are understood and met. This is the long standing practice used by successive Mini[1145] sters in appointing members to the prisons visiting committees.

I am satisfied with the composition and proceedings of the visiting committees. They perform a valuable service and I take this opportunity to thank them for their efforts and hard work. In the context of the consolidation and modernisation of the prison rules generally, which is at present under way, the rules governing visiting committees will be revised and updated. This revision will take into account the functions of the Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention, Mr. Justice Dermot Kinlen, who was appointed in April of this year.

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