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Director General of the Irish Prison Service Michael Donnellan, Acting Chief Executive of the Irish Human Rights Commission Des Hogan, Inspector of Prisons Judge Michael Reilly, fellow Oireachtas members, invited guests, I am delighted to join you here today to launch the joint Irish Human Rights Commission / Irish Prison Service Human Rights Training Programme.

This unique training programme, which was originally developed as a pilot programme by the Irish Prison Service and the Human Rights Commission is being launched this week to coincide with International Human Rights Week, which is fitting. I am pleased to say this pilot has now been independently evaluated and is now being formally launched as a Human Rights Training Course for prison staff which reflects best international practice.

You may be aware that just last week I spoke at an International Conference on Human Rights Education and Training for the Civil and Public Service in Dublin Castle. In opening that conference I outlined the Governments commitment and efforts to further human rights on a European and International stage. The Government is committed to the promotion and protection of human rights of all citizens at home and abroad. This commitment has been recognised by our election to the UN Human Rights Council in 2012.

But the protection of human rights is not solely a matter for Government or for policy makers. In the Irish Prison Service, human rights concerns are relevant from management to the staff at the front line. We should remember that we can, by our own actions, be the cause of another being denied their basic rights as a human. Ignorance of the law or of best practice in this area is not and can not be used as an excuse for the denial of human rights.

The Irish Prison Service has a long and proud tradition of providing safe, secure custody for prisoners committed to its care by the Courts and for treating all those in its custody with dignity and respect. The Irish Prison Service, both management and staff, should never lose sight of this responsibility and obligation. Having said that, in common with most prison systems, ensuring that you have 100% successful compliance is not easy to achieve and it has been the case, that the Service has been found wanting on occasion. The Inspector of Prisons Judge Michael Reilly, who is with us today, has, in his many prison inspection reports, had occasion to highlight human rights concerns in the past. His detailed report on St Patrick’s Institution early this year which was a cause of substantial concern to me is an example of this. In his Report the Inspector commented, that a culture existed that led to the human rights of some children and young adults being ignored or violated.

As I have said in the past, we are fortunate to have an Inspector of Prisons who brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the post from his national and international work. He provides a valuable independent and reforming oversight of our prisons which I greatly value.

The Irish Prison Service has shown that as a service it is willing to listen to the constructive criticism it has received from the Inspector, and others, and is prepared to effect changes in order to positively react to and address the issues raised. Such change has however been in many cases reactive, implementing the recommendations made by others where appropriate. What is unique about this particular initiative is that it is proactive. The Irish Prison Service has identified a specific training need and in conjunction with the Human Rights Commission has developed a bespoke training programme specifically designed for staff working in our prisons.

I am particularly pleased to note that this programme has been developed as a partnership between the Irish Prison Service and the Human Rights Commission. As many of you will be aware since 2008 the Human Rights Commission here in Ireland has undertaken an intensive programme of human rights education and training aimed at Civil and Public Servants. Over 800 officials across the Civil and Public Service have benefited from this training.
Tailored training has been provided to the Gardaí, to local authority staff and is now being delivered to our prison staff. I am aware that this programme has been the most far-reaching and collaborative programme of work to date.

This unique training programme, as I have said earlier, consists of an in-depth intensive tailored 5-day training programme, has been delivered to the 21 Human Rights Trainers and I will be presenting their certificates to them later. These staff are, in turn, delivering the 2-hour Human Rights Awareness Programme to staff in their respective prisons throughout the country. I think it is very important that this programme is being delivered to all prison staff and is fully supported by the prison Governors and their management teams. I am please to say that since its inception the Human Rights Awareness programme has now been delivered to over 1,120 staff members across the system.

The programme has been viewed initially as a pilot programme and through the detailed feedback from the Training Officers and the prison staff who have received the training, the programme has been and will continue to be revised, will continue to evolve and will no doubt improve as it continues to be further rolled out to all prison based staff.

This human rights programme is indicative of the positive, inspiring work that both the Prison Service and the Human Rights Commission undertake. As you are aware, human rights are universally agreed basic standards which aim to ensure that all people are treated with dignity and respect. As such, the State is the primary defender of human rights. As a public service body, the Irish Prison Service sets high standards in serving the Irish public and these standards are underpinned by the human rights obligations to which the State has committed itself for the benefit of everyone. The Irish Prison Service’s commitment to human rights is reflected in its mission statement which is "Providing safe and secure custody, dignity of care and rehabilitation to prisoners for safer communities" and its core values which include integrity and respect. It is clear that the Irish Prison Service recognises its obligation to serve the community with full respect for the human dignity and rights of every person, both in custody and in the wider community.

The training provided to prison personnel places significant emphasis on the human rights of all and focuses primarily on the daily interactions between prisoners and staff. They are taught that deprivation of liberty is the most sensitive and far-reaching power available to the State and should at all times be subject to the rule of law and exercised with respect for the dignity and basic rights to which everyone is entitled as a human being.

The training places significant emphasis on the relevant International Instruments on the treatment of prisoners and prison law and policy. Within this framework, human rights are defined as universal legal guarantees protecting individuals and groups against actions which interfere with fundamental freedoms and human dignity. These human rights instruments - including the Irish Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, provide a legal framework to support prison staff in performing their duties through policies and practices that are lawful, humane and disciplined.

I believe that incorporating such principles into daily conduct strengthens the professionalisation of the Service. All prisoners have rights which are legal entitlements and cannot be removed or withdrawn. Persons who are detained or imprisoned retain all their rights as humans with the exception of those which have been lost as specific consequences of the deprivation of liberty.

I believe that this training programme, developed by utilising the expertise of the Human Rights Commission and the Prison Service College will further encourage the development of skills necessary to transform the training received into practical behaviour. I am confident that the programme’s aims of encouraging prison personnel to recognise their individual roles in promoting and protecting human rights, and their own potential for affecting human rights in their daily work will contribute to reinforcing an ethos of legality, and of compliance with international human rights standards, within our prisons.
To conclude I would like to congratulate the Prison Service and the Human Rights Commission on this initiative which I believe will enhance the protection of human rights in our prisons.

The prison landscape is changing. I know that the Director General Michael Donnellan is determined to continue driving all initiatives in relation to equality, diversity and dignity as committed to in the Prison Service 3 Years Strategic Plan. The Strategy, which I published last year here in the Prison Service College, includes a Strategic Goal to introduce a Dignity at Work Charter and to launch a prison wide dignity and respect campaign the aim of which is to promote and protect dignity and respect in all our prisons.

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world" those are the words of the late Nelson Mandela, the worlds most famous prisoner who sadly past away last week. He was indeed an icon for human rights activism and an advocate for equality and respect for all. While his loss will be mourned across the world, his legacy will live on and the actions of this great statesman will be an inspiration for all those who continue to fight for equality and human rights.

Again, I am pleased to be here for the launch of this unique human rights education project and I am proud as Minister to be responsible for an Organisation whose management and staff recognise diversity, have respect for human rights and have an openness to change.

Thank you.