Minister for Justice Helen McEntee address Annual Delegate Conference Sligo, 25th April 2024

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Dermot Kelly

Home » Minister for Justice Helen McEntee address Annual Delegate Conference Sligo, 25th April 2024

Addressing the Prison Officers Association on the first day of their annual conference in Sligo, the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, TD recognised the ongoing pressure the Prison System is facing.


Committing to continuing to work with the Prison Officers Association to ensure sufficient capacity to accommodate all those committed to prison by the courts, and to ensure that Prison Officers are supported in their role, the Minister announced an additional €49.5 million package she secured earlier this year under the National Development Plan for 2024-2026, bringing the total capital allocation for the Irish Prison Service for this period to €159m. In addition to advancing a number of modular units this year, the additional funding will allow for 4 new capital developments to be advanced at Castlerea, Cloverhill, Mountjoy and the Midlands prisons. These 4 new capital builds will deliver up to 670 new spaces.


Addressing the delegates the Minister said :


“Like me, you want our prisons to provide a safe, secure and progressive environment for the officers who serve in them, and for those who live in them. And like me, you know that to achieve that, we simply must increase capacity.


Over the last couple of years, we have seen some capacity added, through developments at Cork Prison, at the Mountjoy Training Unit, and of course at Limerick Prison, where €70m was invested in redevelopment. But I know this falls far short of what is needed.


We must deliver more and earlier this month, I secured an extra €49.5m in funding for 2024-2026, bringing the total capital allocation for the Irish Prison Service for this period to €159 million. This additional funding will allow for the advancement of 4 capital projects that will deliver up to 670 prison spaces and planning for these projects will get underway this year.”


The Minister also committed to examining other potential options for both increasing the capacity of the Irish Prison Service and modernising the estate. To that end, the Minister has directed that a new review group to make recommendations on other future prison developments, including examining Thornton Hall, be established.


Speaking about the need to ensure not only sufficient capacity, but also the facilities to rehabilitate offenders, the Minister said:


“We are in a situation where population growth, increased Gardaí, and longer sentences for serious crime will continue increasing the pressures on prisons. I intend to provide for the immediate and long-term needs of the Prison Service and so I am establishing a new review group to make recommendations on other future prison developments, including looking at Thornton Hall.


This is about not only providing the extra places that will be needed, it is about ensuring there is both the space and the facilities to work with offenders so that when they leave custody, they are less likely to reoffend.”


Responding to a request made by the Prison Officers Association to be provided with incapacitant spray as part of their equipment, the Minister confirmed she has instructed the necessary provisions be put in place to facilitate this. Confirming this, the Minister said:

“We know our Prison Officers are well trained, including in de-escalation practice, but they do deal with sometimes very volatile individuals and situations and unfortunately serious injuries can occur. The appropriate use of incapacitant spray, where other tactics can’t be used or have failed, can be an effective means of deescalating dangerous situations with as little force as possible – minimising the potential for serious injury all round. Obviously permitting the use of incapacitant spray in a prison setting is something that will require robust policies, procedures and training, as well as potential legislative changes but I have asked that whatever is needed to provide for this, be done.”


Commenting on the issue of drugs being smuggled into prisons, the Minister noted the fact that the majority of people who are committed to prison have addiction issues. In recognising the ongoing work undertaken by the Prison Service to prevent drugs coming into prisons, Minister McEntee committed to continuing to support their investment in new technologies, including looking at what can be done to prevent the use of drones.


The Minister is also continuing to work closely with the Minister for Health to advance a range of actions aimed at addressing the underlying causes of offending behaviours where these are driven by addiction and mental health issues.


In concluding her remarks at the Conference, the Minister acknowledged the essential role Prison Officers play in the criminal justice system. Addressing delegates she said:


“You are the front line, and backbone, of a system that makes us all safer. Not just through providing secure custody in our prisons, but also by providing the care and rehabilitation that many vulnerable people in prison need to help them make the right choices and get their lives back on track.


For this, and for helping to make our society and communities safer, we are profoundly grateful. I am committed to listening to you and to working with you to address the challenges you face.”



Notes for editors


Budget and Capital

The Irish Prison Service is committed to providing safe, secure and respectful care for all of those committed to custody. As part of fulfilling this commitment, Government continues to invest significantly in the capital development of the prison estate. This includes investment in building new accommodation and in the refurbishment of existing facilities.


It also includes increased funding allocated for staffing and services.


As part of Budget 2023, an additional €6.5m package was secured to provide for additional staff recruitment and to support rehabilitation and training.


In Budget 2024, an additional circa €24.1 million was secured for the Irish Prisons Service budget. This includes approximately €9m in staffing to provide for increased pay roll costs, recruitment, and 65,000 additional hours to help with current pressures.


The 4 new capital projects announced, which will deliver up to 670 places will be as follows:

• Castlerea (150 prison spaces),

• Cloverhill (190 prison spaces),

• Mountjoy (150 prison spaces)

• Midlands (180 prison spaces)


These will be advanced as part of an accelerated capital construction programme. Preparatory work will commence on these projects this year with work on the specification for Castlerea already begun.


The additional capital funding will also be used to advance short term projects currently being pursued by the Prison Service that are expected to deliver over 150 spaces this year. These spaces will be spread across a number of prisons including Mountjoy, Limerick, Castlerea, Wheatfield, Midlands, Loughan house and Shelton.


Staffing and Recruitment

In 2023 a total of 194 Recruit Prison Officers joined the organisation via seven classes launched over the course of the year and in the target for 2024 is 300.


The Irish Prison Service we will launch their next prison officer recruitment campaign later this year. The most recent RPO recruitment campaign was launched in August 2023 and closed in October 2023 and 1,813 applications were received for this campaign.


Government recently approved increasing the mandatory retirement age to 62 years of age in a number of the uniform services, including Prison Officers. This will need to be facilitated by amendments to the relevant legislation and it is intended that revised legislation will be in place before the summer recess.


Joint Health / Justice approach to considering the mental health and addiction challenges of people interacting with the criminal justice system

In a joint approach and in fulfilment of a Government commitment, the Ministers for Justice and Health published the report of the High Level Taskforce considering the mental health and addiction challenges of people interacting with the criminal justice system in September 2022. The first annual progress report on the implementation of the Report’s recommendations, which shows concerted work across the Department of Justice and the Department of Health, as well as with multiple agencies, was published earlier this year.

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