Just 2% of prisoners have been vaccinated to date

Irish Penal Reform Trust ‘dismayed’ inmates appear to have been ‘left behind’

Vaccination of the State’s 3,800 prisoners against Covid-19 is moving at a significantly slower rate than the general population, with just 2.1 per cent having received a dose as of last week.

The total of 82 vaccinated prisoners includes those in the over-70s category and a small number deemed medically vulnerable. By contrast, the Taoiseach says he expects 50 per cent of eligible adults will have had a shot by this week.

The prison population skews considerably younger than the general population, but contains a much high proportion of medically vulnerable people, including inmates with immunosuppressive conditions. Just 23 prisoners have been vaccinated to date due to their medical condition.

Around 14 per cent of the prison population is aged over 50, of which just 15 per cent has received a vaccine.

Senior prison sources have blamed the delay on logistical issues, and a “withdrawal of good will” by prison officers in protest at the decision not to give them priority in the vaccine queue when the State’s rollout was reconfigured.

It is understood the withdrawal of good will has been paused, which management hopes will speed up vaccine administration.

About 360 prison staff have now received a vaccine to date, primarily those responsible for escorting prisoners to hospitals for treatment.

An Irish Prison Service spokeswoman said it has been engaging with the HSE and Department of Health regarding arrangements for the administration of vaccines to the remaining prisoner and staff cohort. She said these discussions "are at an advanced stage, and are expected to conclude shortly".

Inmates in Portlaoise Prison staged a protest over the weekend over the slow rollout. A group of about 20 on E wing, which houses republican inmates, refused to return to their cells for three hours after lights out on Saturday, prison sources said.

Testing positive

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday noted that 46 per cent of Covid-19 cases in Irish prisons in February were recorded among over-50s. Mountjoy in Dublin recently recorded the largest Covid-19 outbreak in the prison system to date, with 36 inmates testing positive.

The WHO said prisoners should be included in vaccine rollouts on the basis of their increased vulnerability and the duty of governments to protect people deprived of liberty. Staff should also be prioritised, it said.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust said it was "dismayed that men and women in prison" appear to have been "left behind" in Ireland's pandemic effort.

“People in prison and their families outside have been patiently waiting their turn for vaccinations despite the incredibly tough restrictions on prison life,” its executive director Fíona Ní Chinnéide said.

“Thousands of children have not had physical contact with their parent in prison in over 14 months. The trauma for those children and families will be long-lasting.”