Jail report will not be withdrawn - chairwomen


THE chairwoman of the Mountjoy prison visiting committee, Ms Nuala Fennell, has rejected suggestions that the committee is likely to withdraw its report on the prison.

Ms Fennell, a former Minister of State, said yesterday that there was "absolutely no substance" to an article in the Sunday Independent which said that a meeting of the committee is to be held on Thursday to formally decide to withdraw the report. The paper claimed the withdrawal was based on concerns that medical staff who were criticised were not given a right of reply.

Ms Fennell confirmed that the Visiting Committee is meeting on Thursday next to consider its response to a letter from the Minister for Justice, Mrs Owen. The committee will be commenting on the report, Ms Fennell said, but added: "Let's wait until the report is published."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice said yesterday the Minister hoped to publish the report once she was satisfied with the response of the committee to her letter.

According to the spokeswoman, Mrs Owen received the annual report on April 29th. The report sharply criticised the prison and medical staff at Mountjoy. Mrs Owen was concerned about possible libel in the report and referred it to the Attorney General, Mr Dermot Gleeson, on May 1st.

Mr Gleeson gave his opinion and as a result she wrote to the committee. It is believed her letter expressed his concern about possible defamatory comments about medical staff. The committee wrote back to the Minister that it would be meeting on Thursday, to consider her letter.

The Sunday Independent article suggested that some members of the committee were angry because the report was not made available to them. However, it is understood that all 12 members of the Visiting Committee received a copy of the report and that there are three drafts.

Last week an Irish Medical Organisation executive said most prisoners at Mountjoy attended the medical staff for trivial and non medical reasons and this explained the large numbers of patients seen, which was criticised in the Visiting Committee's report. Mr Derek Hunter told the IMO's weekly newspaper, the Irish Medical News, that often prisoners were referred to the doctor if they wanted to change the type of soap or shampoo they were using or if they wanted to change the type of shoes they wore.