Tuesday, 13 October 2020
Department of Justice and Equality
410. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the policy on the wearing of face masks by prison officers while on duty in prisons; if the policy is in line with national public health guidance; if compliance with the policy is monitored; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30170/20]
As the Deputy will be aware, Covid-19 clearly provides unique challenges to congregated settings, including our prisons. Covid-19 in a prison setting would present significant challenges for prison management in terms of controlling the spread of the virus amongst staff and prisoners, the provision of appropriate medical treatment to affected persons and the maintenance of staffing levels. Recognising these challenges, the Director General of the Irish Prison Service at an early stage established an Emergency Response Planning Team (“ERPT”) consisting of senior staff with skills and experience in areas including operational; healthcare; and infection control. The ERPT was tasked with identifying and issuing instruction for any necessary actions with the aim of:
- Blocking the spread of Covid-19 into a prison setting;
- Early detection of any possible case of Covid-19 in a prisoner or staff member; and
- Prevention of the spread of Covid-19, should a case be confirmed.
A huge amount of work has been carried out by the Irish Prison Service in this regard, informed and guided by the advice received from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), and consistent with the prison specific guidance for the management of Covid-19 issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on 15 March 2020.
I have been advised by the Irish Prison Service that from the onset of the pandemic, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) guidelines including the use of face masks were developed in line with Public Health guidelines. The guidelines in place protect both those incarcerated and employees of the Irish Prison Service from the potential exposure to Covid-19.
There are a number of levels of PPE that apply within prisons and the PPE guidelines take account of physical distancing requirements and potential contact with a suspected or confirmed case of Covid-19.
PPE is required where there may be contact with suspected or confirmed cases of Covid-19, contact with those in quarantine and when prisoners are escorted to court or hospital. The Irish Prison Service has developed protocols regarding the use of PPE for staff which complement the broad range of infection control measures to prevent transmission of Covid-19 within prisons.
The Irish Prison Service has issued recommendations on the wearing of surgical masks by Prison Staff in certain circumstances and most recently determined that staff must wear surgical masks in areas which have been highlighted as locations where social distancing is difficult or cannot be maintained. This mandatory requirement comes in to effect this week.
These include some offices and control rooms where more than one officer is present and when sharing vehicles. I am further informed that there are a number of Standard Operating Procedures in place for the distribution of PPE, as well as the donning and doffing and Infection Control measures and these are kept under consent review by the Irish Prison Service.