Tuesday, 16 June 2020
Department of Justice and Equality
Prison Visiting Regulations
348. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality when it is expected that visits to prisoners will commence across the prison system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10981/20]
354. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality when prison visits will resume; the safety precautions that will be put in place for visiting families; if precautions will differ depending on the level of security of the prison; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11087/20]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 348 and 354 together.
I am acutely aware of the supportive role that families and friends play in the rehabilitation of prisoners and in their preparation for life in the community after release from prison.
With this in mind, the Irish Prison Service continued to facilitate physical family visits to prisons for as long as it was safe to do so. However I know that Deputies appreciate it was necessary in the interest of the health and welfare of our prison population to suspend physical family visits in March, when public health restrictions on movement and gatherings were introduced due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Parallel to the suspension of physical visits, the Prison Service introduced a number of new innovations including video visits, to enable prisoners to maintain contact with their families during these difficult times.
It is important to recognise that due to these and other measures introduced by the Irish Prison Service as well as the efforts of staff, Red Cross Volunteers and prisoners themselves, there has to date been no confirmed prisoner case of Covid-19 in our prisons. Nevertheless the risk continues and must be managed.
The Director General has assured me that the Irish Prison Service is committed to reintroducing physical visits as soon as it is safe to do so.
I am informed that, in line with the Government Roadmap, the Irish Prison Service has started a detailed assessment of the ability of each prison, within its physical and resources confines, to resume some family visits, with appropriate safeguards in place having regard to the need for infection control. I hope that it will also be possible to continue the innovation of the video calls, which I know have been appreciated by families.
While no date has yet been identified and the safety arrangements that will be put in place have yet to be finalised, the Irish Prison Service will provide further information and a date for the gradual recommencement of visits to prisoners and their families in the coming weeks.