Dáil debates

Thursday, 12 October 2006

Adjournment Debate

Prison Accommodation.

2:00 pm

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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On 31 July, a 20 year old prisoner, Gary Douch, made a request to prison officers in Mountjoy for protection. They placed him in a holding cell in the basement with at least five other inmates, where he was subsequently battered to death. One media outlet reported he was beaten for more than one hour, had his head forced down a toilet full of human faeces, his chest was stamped on resulting in its collapse and he was eventually strangled. No one saw or heard anything.

The cell was demolished by the Prison Service before members of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture could inspect it this week. Every State failure to protect the lives of those in custody, whether in a Garda station or a prison, must be subject to nothing less than an independent investigation.

In August an investigation was established by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to be conducted by an official from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform reporting back to the Minister. As argued by the Irish Penal Reform Trust, "Surely, a truly independent inquiry, by definition, must include investigators who are not part of the bureaucracy and ethos of the Prison Service and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform". The investigation established by the Minister could be described more as "in-house" than "independent" and as such, it falls far short of our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Inspectors from the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, CPT, tasked with monitoring standards in our prison system, are visiting this week. The Government was notified of the timing of this visit earlier this year. The CPT inspectors could have conducted a genuinely independent investigation into the circumstances leading to and surrounding the death of Gary Douch. They were denied the opportunity to do so because the Prison Service demolished the cell where his murder took place.

I sincerely hope this action by the Prison Service does not turn out to be an indication of a culture of cover-up akin to that operating within certain sections of the Garda Síochána. Twenty year old Terence Wheelock died in Garda custody in June 2005. Gardaí claimed he hanged himself but it is widely believed by his family and friends that he died as a result of Garda brutality. The Wheelock family's solicitor secured a court order to preserve the cell for forensic evidence. However, the order was disregarded and the cell was completely renovated destroying all evidence.

It is only right that we question and get to the bottom of the Prison Service's motive for destroying the holding cell in Mountjoy. It was destroyed before the report of the internal investigation into Gary Douch's murder was published, and to the best of my knowledge, before this report was submitted to the Minister. They destroyed it before any related charges could be laid by the Garda and before the European Committee on the Prevention of Torture could inspect it. At best, the actions of the Prison Service amounts to negligence, at worst a cover-up.

I want to use this opportunity to call for a truly independent investigation into the death of Gary Douch and all deaths occurring in custody or shortly after someone being in custody. Will the Government ratify the optional protocol to the Convention Against Torture as is required by the equivalence provisions of the Good Friday Agreement? Will the Minister introduce legislation to place the prisons' inspector on a statutory footing, introduce a prisoners' ombudsman and remove the current exemption of children in detention from the remit of the Ombudsman for Children? Will the Government establish and resource an adequate number of mental health treatment centres with appropriate levels of security to bring an end to the practice whereby the prison system acts as a dumping ground for people suffering from mental illness?

Only truly independent inquiries will uncover the truth and allow lessons to be learned. By insisting on in-house investigations and allowing the destruction of evidence, the Government learns no lessons. Building a super-prison will do nothing to prevent the murder, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners. It will simply replicate these conditions on a larger scale.

Photo of Noel AhernNoel Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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The Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which operates under the aegis of the Council of Europe, was established under the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment in 1987. The committee is composed of lawyers, medical doctors, prison experts, parliamentarians etc. from the member states and carries out its task by periodic and ad hoc visits and on the basis of full co-operation from states.

During these visits, the committee has the right of unimpeded access at any time of the day or night to any place where persons are detained, whether it be a prison, a Garda station or a mental hospital, and are entitled to speak in private to any detained person.

The CPT has visited Ireland for inspection purposes on a number of occasions. The CPT submits a formal report of each visit to the Irish Government, which is subsequently published along with the Government's response. The report arising from the visit by the CPT to Ireland in 2002 noted that its delegation had received excellent co-operation both before and during the visit.

The Tánaiste completely rejects the assertion that the instruction to close the holding cell referred to was in any way linked to the current visit by the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. In fact the Tánaiste views such an implication as quite frankly outrageous and completely at odds with the actions of his Department since this tragic incident. The Deputy should be aware of the appointment of Mr. Michael Mellett to undertake an independent investigation into the events leading to the death of Mr. Douch. He had been to the scene of the crime and had concluded his examination of the area prior to any action being taken to convert them for alternative usage.

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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Hardly an independent inquiry.

Photo of Noel AhernNoel Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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The same position applies in the Garda investigation into the incident and they had indicated they had no further requirement of the crime scene for their criminal investigation.

Normal procedure following a serious criminal incident in a prison is that the scene of the crime is sealed and preserved until the gardaí have concluded their examination. In normal circumstances, the area would then be cleaned and brought back into commission in its previous use. In this case it was clear that such a course of action would be completely inappropriate and the Director General of the Irish Prison Service made the decision, in the immediate aftermath of the incident, that for operational reasons, the holding cells would be closed with immediate effect and that they would no longer accommodate prisoners.

The Tánaiste has repeatedly stated on the record that Mountjoy Prison is an unsuitable prison for the requirements placed upon it and that it is incapable of acting as a modern place of rehabilitation and detention for sentenced persons. It is past its sell by date——

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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So is the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

Photo of Noel AhernNoel Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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——and this is why the replacement of the Mountjoy complex by the site at Thornton Hall in north County Dublin is such a priority for the Tánaiste, the Government and the Irish Prison Service.

The CPT has not raised any complaints with the Irish authorities concerning access to the B base of Mountjoy Prison.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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It has asked questions about the prison, as it has every year.