79. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if she is satisfied that no gender discrimination exists in the prison system; the measures she will take to ensure that it does not exist; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15840/17]
Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): I can advise the Deputy that the Irish Prison Service operates within the parameters set out in Irish, European and international human rights law and promotes equality and human rights through its policies and practices.
Separation of male and female prisoners is provided for under Section 52 of the Consolidated Prison Rules 2007-2014. Female prisoners are accommodated in the Dóchas Centre which is a separate facility for females within the Mountjoy Prison Campus and female offenders in the Munster area are accommodated in Limerick Female Prison.
A new development for females in Limerick will see a tender for a new facility commence in July 2017 with work to commence in January 2018. When completed this will provide 50 spaces with 7 independent living areas which will enhance the regimes and supports available to women as a stand alone facility with all the required ancillary services. This will result in a therapeutic environment with the view to reducing re-offending offering family links to release and the community.
At present, there is no open prison facility for females, however in the joint Probation Service/Irish Prison Service Women's Strategy 2014 - 2016, "An Effective Response to Women who Offend", the Irish Prison Service gave a commitment to explore the development of an open centre/open conditions for women assessed as low risk of re-offending. A joint Prison Service/Probation Service working group considered an open centre for women and decided to recommend step down facilities for women as a more practical and cost effective way to address the deficit rather than developing an open centre for women. In this regard, I have given approval to the Heads of the Irish Prison Service and Probation Service to proceed to tender for the development of a step down unit for women in Dublin. It is expected that the facility will be available towards the end of 2017.