Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to review the prison visiting committees with particular reference to standardising their activities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6596/18]
160. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of persons involved in prison visiting committees; the number of reports issued for each prison; the annual expenditure of prison visiting committees; his plans to initiate a website or public information forum to follow their work; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6597/18]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): I propose to take Questions Nos. 159 and 160 together.
The Visiting Committee to each of the current 12 prisons or places of detention is appointed under the Prison (Visiting Committees) Act, 1925 and Prisons (Visiting Committees) Order, 1925.
At present there are 54 Visiting Committee members. A per diem taxable payment of €142.50 per visit / meeting and vouched travel expenses of up to €30 per visit/meeting is paid to Visiting Committee members. Expenditure in 2017 was €182,902.
The function of Visiting Committees is to visit at frequent intervals the prisons to which they are appointed and to hear any complaints which may be made to them by any prisoner. The Visiting Committees have free access, either collectively or individually, to every part of their prisons. They focus on issues such as the quality of accommodation, catering, medical, educational, welfare and recreational facilities.
In relation to standardisation, there are a number of processes through which the activities of each Committee are publicised and discussed among themselves and with the Irish Prison Service (IPS). Firstly, each Committee submits an Annual Report to me which is published and available for public information on my Department's website ( www.justice.ie ). Secondly, it has been the practice in recent years for a group comprising the Chairs of each of the 12 Visiting Committee to meet on a quarterly basis with the Director General of the IPS to discuss issues of common concern. Thirdly, I myself recently met with this group and intend to do so again later this year.
Finally, 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.