On Friday, 24 June 2022, the Department of Justice announced the publication of the General Scheme of the Inspection of Places of Detention Bill. This bill will provide for the designation of National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs), which act as national inspecting bodies for places of detention within Ireland.
NPMs monitor places of detention through regular inspection visits and make recommendations to national authorities. The Department of Justice has proposed to accomplish this by expanding the current role of Inspector of Prisons to Chief Inspector of Places of Detention, whose remit will now include all forms of detention within the justice sector, including Garda stations, court holding cells, vehicles transporting individuals between places of detention, and any place used for immigration-related detention. If the Department’s proposal is taken up, the Chief Inspector of Places of Detention will be a designated NPM for Ireland.
Designating an NPM will allow Ireland to ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT). Ireland signed OPCAT in 2007, and ratification is the next step, one which Minister for Justice Helen McEntee stated ‘will further strengthen Ireland’s commitment to the highest international standards in this area of human rights’.
The standards set by NPMs are in turn subject to international inspection and monitoring, keeping Ireland’s standards for places of detention in line with those of the international community. The Department of Justice further stated that its intent is for the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) to become a coordinating NPM, with responsibility for coordinating the activities of the State’s NPMs and liaising with the relevant UN oversight body, the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture.
A recent EMN Ireland/ESRI study on immigration detention and alternatives to detention, published in November 2021, gives some perspective as to how the proposed bill relates to migration. The report highlights how Ireland does not currently have a dedicated immigration detention facility, with prisons and Garda stations used instead. It describes limitations in the data available on immigration detention in Garda stations and ports, as well as limited coverage of the situation of migrant detainees by oversight bodies. The introduction of an NPM to cover all places of detention would allow for increased supervision of places used for immigration detention and the potential for an improved understanding of the extent to which immigration detention is used in Ireland.
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