Failure to restart family visits and religious services in prisons condemned in Dáil

TD hits out at ‘another plan’ as Prison Service develops ‘framework’ for easing restrictions

The failure to restart family visits and religious services in the State’s prisons, while the rest of society reopens, has been condemned in the Dáil.

Fianna Fáil TD Eamon Ó Cuív, a long-term campaigner for prisoners’ rights compared the treatment of prisoners with efforts to reopen nursing homes as he sharply criticised the delay in similar action for prison inmates.

Visits to nursing homes had successfully restarted “a considerable time ago” even though residents are “generally much more vulnerable than members of the prison population,” he said.

Minister of State Frankie Feighan announced that the Prison Service is developing a "new framework for the unwinding of prison restrictions", which will be published later this month.


He said the plan “will set out a phased unwinding of the restrictions and a plan for the resumption of visits and religious services will be included”.

Mr Feighan added that “although the unwinding of prison restrictions and the resumption of religious services and visits are priorities for the service, they are subject to a number of critical factors”.

These included the need to maintain infection-control measures, the rollout of the prison vaccination programme for both prisoners and staff, and the rollout of the community vaccination programme.

‘Another big master plan’

But Mr Ó Cuív angrily replied: “Don’t tell me, after all these months, that we are drawing up another plan. I don’t want to hear about another big master plan being drawn up. It is most frustrating,” he said.

“Prisoners want dates when they’re going to be able to see their loved ones, and their loved ones want dates when they can see the members of their families in prison.

“It shouldn’t be the case that it might happen at some point in the future on a phased basis. That’s not good enough.

“Similarly, there’s no excuse for not facilitating religious services,” he said. “We all know how safe they have been in the general populace and how controlled that environment is.

“There’s no reason not to facilitate them. It is totally unfair to put an additional burden of caution on prisons when in society, we balance the other human needs of people in a much fairer way.”

Mr Feighan said a vaccination programme started in prisons on June 9th on a “prison-by-prison basis” to all prisoners and unvaccinated staff under the age of 40, administered by the National Ambulance Service.

He added that the Prison Service had worked tirelessly to safeguard prisoners and staff, “and this continues to be the primary consideration”.

Mr Feighan said he understood “the impact the loss of family contact has had on prisoners” but he said the new framework for unwinding prison restrictions “will provide clarity for both prisoners and their families as to when visits and religious services can begin again”.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times