117. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of vacancies on each prison visiting committee in 2019; and his plans to reform the current prison visiting committees including the appointments process and quality and standardisation of reporting. [24798/19]


Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): I wish to advise the Deputy that a Visiting Committee is assigned to each of the current 12 prisons and places of detention under the Prison (Visiting Committees) Act, 1925 and Prisons (Visiting Committees) Order, 1925.
Each committee is to consist of such number of responsible persons, not being more than twelve nor less than six, as the Minister shall think proper. At present there are 54 Visiting Committee members which leaves eighteen vacancies in total which are outlined in the following Table.

Prison Current Members Current Vacancies
1 Arbour Hill Prison 5 1
2 Castlerea Prison 5 1
3 Cloverhill Prison 3 3
4 Cork Prison 5 1
5 Dóchas Centre 4 2
6 Limerick Prison 4 2
7 Loughan House Open Centre 2 4
8 Midlands Prison 6 0
9 Mountjoy Prison 5 1
10 Portlaoise Prison 6 0
11 Shelton Abbey Open Centre 5 1
12 Wheatfield Place of Detention 4 2
Total Vacancies 54 18

The function of visiting committees is to visit at frequent intervals the prison to which they are appointed and hear any complaints which may be made to them by any prisoner. The visiting committee have free access, either collectively or individually to every part of their prison. In inspecting prisons, the visiting committees focus on issues such as the quality of accommodation, catering, medical, educational, welfare and recreational facilities.
The role of Visiting Committees will be considered in the context of the drafting of the General Scheme of the Inspection of Places of Detention Bill which is the vehicle intended to be used to implement the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT).
As I recently indicated in relation to OPCAT, my Department are in the process of completing a draft scheme of this Bill which I intend to share with key stakeholders for their observations before it is finalised and I bring it to Government for approval later this year.