76. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on the risk posed to Prison Service staff and vulnerable prisoners by prison overcrowding; and the steps he will take to ensure prisoners are not forced to sleep on mattresses on the floor in prisons as a consequence of overcrowding. [20227/19]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): I wish to advise the Deputy that prison Governors are required by law to accept all prisoners into their custody who have been committed to prison by the Courts. The Irish Prison Service therefore has no control over the numbers committed to custody at any given time.
The actual number of beds available on a given day can be less than the capacity figure as cells may be unavailable for different reasons such as repairs and maintenance. Furthermore, where local management assess a prisoner as being unsuited to share a cell for reasons of vulnerability or propensity to violence, a cell designated as being operationally suitable for two prisoners may, temporarily, house only one prisoner.
Where the number of prisoners exceeds the maximum capacity in any prison, my officials make every effort to deal with this through a combination of inter-prison transfers and structured Temporary Release. Decisions in relation to temporary release are considered on a case by case basis and the safety of the public is paramount when those decisions are made.
My Department has been working closely with the Director General of the Irish Prison Service to ensure a safe working environment for staff and the safety and security of prisoners in our custody and we are taking a number of short and medium term steps to address the issue of increasing prison numbers.
I am advised that plans are advanced for the re-opening of accommodation not currently being used within the system, including the re-opening of the Training Unit which itself will provide approximately an additional 90 spaces.
In addition, an audit of existing accommodation is underway, in order to identify where additional spaces can be brought on stream with the potential to provide in excess of an additional 100 spaces.
I have also recently signed a construction contract for the female prison in Limerick as well as a new wing to Limerick male prison. Together, they will provide 130 new spaces.