718. Deputy Mark Ward asked the Minister for Justice the provisions in place for prisoners to receive family visits when restrictions are eased. [13132/21]
Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): I wish to advise the Deputy that under the Irish Prison Service Framework for Restrictive Measures for Living with Covid-19, which was developed in line with the National Framework published by the Government in September last year, all physical visits to prisons are suspended under Level 4 and Level 5.
The Irish Prison Service is fully committed to facilitating the return of physical visits once the national restrictions have been reduced to level 3 and below and based on advice at the time from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) and the Health Service Executive.
A new plan for the return of physical visits will be developed by the Irish Prison Service as part of the unwinding of Covid-19 restrictions as advised by the Government and this will include the continuation of certain infection control measures to continue to prevent the possible spread of the virus in our prisons. The measures and arrangement for physical visits will be informed by Public Health advice and will take account of a number of factors including visiting capacity, the need for continued social distancing and external factors such as the level of infection in the community at that time.
It is likely that all visitors will continue to be subject to the Covid-19 screening procedures which have been in place since March 2020 and visitors will requested not to attend if they have any symptoms, have been in contact with a person who has gone for testing, if they themselves have tested positive for Covid-19 and have yet to be cleared by their doctor, or if they have been abroad in the preceding fortnight.
Details on the procedures and arrangements will be announced by the Irish Prison Service, in advance of the return of visits.
In the interim, the Irish Prison Service is acutely aware of the need for prisoners to maintain contact with their families and a new video visit system was introduced which has allowed families to continue to support those in custody.
I am advised by the Irish Prison Service that when physical visits recommence, they will also retain the option of video calls for prisoners.