The Whitaker report on prisons


Sir, – It is wonderful to hear from TK Whitaker and to remember his many contributions to Ireland (Weekend, April 5th). Long may this 97- year-old enjoy his days salmon-fishing and his couple of pints afterwards.

One of his very important, but less remembered, contributions to the country was to chair the Committee of Inquiry into the Penal System, which reported in 1985. In the light of recent Garda controversy and the promise of an independent Garda authority, it is pertinent to recall how the Whitaker Committee severely criticised the Department of Justice’s stewardship of the prison system and advocated “a separate executive agency or board”, established by statute, to run the prisons. This has never happened, and the Department’s control of the prison system is as strong today as it ever was.

The Whitaker Report also proposed that Ireland have a low prison population, with prison used only “as a last resort”, and it set out clear pathways to achieve this. It also wanted much smaller prisons. Importantly, it stipulated “basic living conditions” which all prisoners should have — yet today’s prisons fall far short of these standards in almost every important respect. It is high time to look again at what the Whitaker Report had to say about our prison system. Yours, etc,


Kilgarron Hill,


Co. Wicklow