394. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Justice when religious services will recommence in prisons given vaccines are being rolled out and social distancing is possible; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32671/21]
Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Deputy Hildegarde Naughton): I can advise the Deputy that the Irish Prison Service is currently developing a new Framework for the Unwinding of Prison Restrictions which is informed by the recent Government Plan for reopening our society, set out in Resilience and Recovery: The Path Ahead.
The new Framework for Unwinding Prison Restrictions, which will be published later this month by the Service, will set out a phased unwinding of the restrictions that were introduced to prevent the possible of spread of Covid-19 into our prisons. A date for the resumption of religious services will be agreed as part of these wider plans.
While the unwinding of prison restrictions and the resumption of religious services is a priority for the Irish Prison Service, it is subject to a number of critical factors including:
- The need to maintain infection control measures
- The roll out of the prison vaccination programme for both prisoners and staff
- The roll out of the community vaccination programme
The Prison Service must take account of the risks of Covid-19 transmission in a congregated setting and the fact that a large cohort of people in custody and staff working in our prisons have not yet been fully vaccinated when reviewing the unwinding of prison restrictions.
In this regard, a vaccination programme commenced on 9th June 2021, on a prison by prison basis, with vaccinations being administered by the National Ambulance Service, supported by Irish Prison Service health care teams to all prisoners, and unvaccinated staff under 40 years of age.
Revised guidelines and controls for the safe celebration of religious services have been developed and approved and I wish to advise the Deputy that Chaplains have continued to work in all prison establishments during lockdowns, providing spiritual and pastoral support services.