UN official critical of conditions in Irish prisons

Sat, Nov 24, 2012, 00:00

A United Nations special rapporteur has criticised overcrowding in jails and the lack of a complaints procedure in Irish prisons.

Margaret Sekeggya, a Ugandan magistrate and special rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders, was in Ireland this week to evaluate the situation of those who promote and defend human rights.

Ms Sekeggya, who met Minister for Justice Alan Shatter during her visit, said cell conditions, sanitation and “slopping out” in Irish prisons had already received “international condemnation” and had been deemed “cruel, inhuman and degrading”.

While welcoming the Government’s commitment to end slopping out by 2014, she said she regarded as “very serious” reports of a lack of an independent complaints system for detainees and the “widespread intimidation” of those wishing to make a complaint.

Ms Sekeggya said during her visit she had also learned about “special detention regimes” which made it difficult for advocates of those held in St Patrick’s Institution for Young Offenders to assist them.

Discussing the preliminary findings from her visit yesterday, in which she also met the Chief Justice, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Garda Ombudsman, Ms Sekeggya said she was also concerned about the treatment of those “peacefully protesting” against the Corrib gas project. She said she had received “very serious allegations and some evidence” of acts of “intimidation, harassment and surveillance . . . both by the Garda and the private security firm”.

Of Travellers, she said there were reports that organisations defending their rights had been “excluded from relevant integration policies”, and that attitudes towards the Traveller community were “hostile and distant”.

On abortion, Ms Sekeggya said the judgments by the Supreme Court of 1992 and the European Court of Human Rights of 2010 should be implemented as a matter of priority. She will make a report on her visit to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2013.