UN evaluation: A mixed report card

United Nations Committee Against Torture report findings should provide the impetus for change in policing and prisons

Ireland received a "could do better" report from the United Nations Committee Against Torture, following detailed hearings in Geneva last July. Concern was expressed about the limited nature of an investigation into Magdalene laundries, in spite of recommendations made by the committee in 2011. And the authors worried that a similar approach was being taken in relation to the operation of mother and baby homes.

On a positive note, the committee welcomed Government efforts to support those who were abused in residential care and it regarded the Citizens’ Assembly as a creative initiative. On improving accountability and transparency, it identified the Protected Disclosures Act as important.

The glass was less than half-full, however, in relation to policing and prisons. In view of the internal problems besetting the Garda Síochána; funding difficulties and the intractable nature of prison reform, that does not surprise. But there was positive news there too. Efforts to end "slopping out" in prisons were praised and the report recognised "significant progress" was being made elsewhere. However, it recommended that solitary confinement should only be used as punishment in extreme cases and never for juveniles. It proposed that "appropriate facilities" should be provided for asylum seekers and called for a fundamental review of the prison healthcare system; an increase in staff numbers and greater funding and independence for the Inspector of Prisons.

The Garda’s response to complaints of violence against women caused particular concern. It urged better record-keeping in police stations, along with prompt and impartial investigations. Failure to implement legislation granting legal representation to persons being interrogated in police custody was also criticised, as was the continuing failure to monitor what goes on in all Garda interview rooms through closed circuit television. Some of the recommendations involve works in progress while others identify long-standing problems. The Government knows what has to be done. This report should provide the impetus to do it.