Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Justice if the Irish Prison Service has provided her with a report of an incident which took place in 2021 in Cloverhill Prison during which a male prison guard instructed a female solicitor to remove her underwear when her bra set off a metal detector when attending for a visit with a client on an urgent matter, and if she will meet with the solicitor to discuss the matter. [37748/21]
571. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Justice if she will commission a review into the practices and policies within the Irish prison system which resulted in a male prison guard instructing a female solicitor to remove their underwear when their bra set off a metal detector in order for them to meet with their client on an urgent matter; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37821/21]
583. Deputy Réada Cronin asked the Minister for Justice if her Department has been in contact with an organisation (details supplied) in relation to the treatment of women solicitors in the matter of removal of items of underwear in order to be admitted to a prison; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37845/21]
584. Deputy Réada Cronin asked the Minister for Justice if non-solicitor female visitors to prisoners have been required to remove items of underwear in order to be admitted to the visit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37846/21]
Minister for Justice (Deputy Heather Humphreys): I propose to take Questions Nos. 565, 571, 583 and 584 together.
The security and safety of our prisons is paramount, particularly during this Covid-19 pandemic, and I am sure the Deputies will appreciate that the staff of the Irish Prison Service have a difficult job to achieve this on a daily basis. It is nonetheless vital that every visitor to our prisons is treated with the highest degree of respect, integrity and courtesy at all times. I have sought assurances in this regard from the Director General of the Irish Prison Service who has informed me that it is not, nor has it ever been, the policy of the Irish Prison Service to request anyone to remove anything other than outer garments as part of the screening arrangements.
I am also informed that there were additional temporary measures in place between March and June last year following the initial outbreak of COVID-19. During this early period, prison officers did not have the option of using wand scanners or ‘pat down’ searches on visitors. As Deputies will be aware, the number of visitors during this period was limited because of Covid restrictions and other options such as video and phone visits were offered to both family members and legal representatives. I am informed that visitors who activated the walkthrough metal detector were given the option of rescheduling their visit. My understanding is that this was a strictly temporary measure, as the prison service was adapting its procedures to the pandemic.
Since June 2020, IPS procedures require Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to be worn by all, including staff and visitors, and this facilitated the return of handheld wand and ‘pat down’ searches, albeit in line with appropriate infection control procedures.
As you may be aware, I sought a report on this issue which my Department received today from the Irish Prison Service. The Service is also currently reviewing all Standard Operating Procedures to ensure they take full account of people’s dignity and include guidance on appropriate use of language. My officials will consider this report in detail following which I will assess what further action may be necessary or appropriate.
I do think that it is important to state that, broadly speaking, security screening is a standard and important security measure in operation within all prisons settings. People go to significant lengths to seek to smuggle contraband into our prisons and it is important to have appropriately robust security measures in place to prevent this. Security screening is an essential element in preventing crime which can involve pressure on vulnerable family members to smuggle in contraband. Implementing these measures appropriately with respect for human dignity is vital to maintaining a safe and secure environment for prisoners and staff.
That said, the Director General has assured me that she deeply regrets if these temporary restrictions caused distress or upset to any visitors. I will of course consider any request for a meeting with the individual concerned.