Commission proposed as Coordinating National Preventative Mechanism under Inspection of Places of Detention Bill

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (“the Commission”) today welcomed the proposed legislation that will make the Commission the Coordinating National Preventative Mechanism (“NPM”). If enacted, it will give us oversight on the entire NPM network across the state, a role that is essential in establishing a level of consistency in the inspections carried out across places of detention. It will also facilitate sharing of experience and knowledge of each NPM, helping to build a general set of guidelines and assist in training provision within the network as a whole.

We made our recommendations in our submission on the General Scheme of the Inspection of Places of Detention Bill (“General Scheme”). The purpose of the General Scheme is to ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (“OPCAT”) and to designate NPMs that will act as national inspecting bodies for places of detention within Ireland.

The General Scheme does not go far enough in some key areas relating to resourcing and independence of the NPMs, and how the network of NPMs relate to each other and with civil society and Prison Visiting Committees. We advised that significant amendments and clarifications were needed, as in its current form the General Scheme will not satisfy the requirements for OPCAT, adding further delays to ratification in what has already been noted as urgent.

The Bill also looks at expanding the role and remit of the Office of Inspector of Prisons, transforming it into the Inspectorate of Places of Detention, led by a newly established Office of Chief Inspector. Under the proposed legislation, this new office will become the designated NPM for the Justice Sector and will be responsible for the inspection of four places of detention. These four places are prisons, Garda stations, any vehicle used by the Garda or the Prison Service to transport detainees and also, places of detention immediately before and after a court appearance.

However, this exhaustive approach when defining ‘places of detention’ risks gaps in inspection, especially at de facto places of detention such as airports and ports where investigations and detentions are carried out by state bodies including the Revenue and the Garda National Immigration Bureau. Such gaps would again fall short of the requirements for OPCAT ratification.

To avoid this, we recommend that the remit of the NPM in this instance be broadened to ensure that gaps in inspection are addressed, either through focusing on the types of deprivation of liberty, or through a flexibility in the scope of the inspection.

Our recommendations include that:

  • Civil Society should have a statutory role in the OPCAT structure and the relationship between it, NPMs and Prison Visiting Committees should be clearly set out.
  • NPMs require autonomy under OPCAT including that they are adequately independent, resourced and skilled to carry out their role. This should be clearly set out in the General Scheme and necessary resourcing should be supplied.
  • Ratification of OPCAT needs to happen urgently given that there are currently no independent inspection systems at the domestic level for Gardaí stations, prison transit, court detention, military detention or for certain types of de facto detention in voluntary settings.

Chief Commissioner Sinéad Gibney:

“The fundamental importance of robust NPMs can never be understated, a point well affirmed by Ms. Aisha Shujune Muhammad, Vice-Chair, United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, when she said,

“The National Preventive Mechanisms represent the most significant single

measure which States can take to prevent torture and ill-treatment occurring

over time.”

“The continued delay in ratification of OPCAT is unacceptable given the lack of an independent inspection system. This must be addressed to assist in preventing ill-treatment and torture in places of detention. 

While we welcome the Commission’s proposed role as Coordinating NPM, much work remains to be done in terms of the independence, accountability and structure of the bodies proposed in this legislation before becoming OPCAT compliant.”

For further information, please contact:
Sarah Clarkin, IHREC Communications Manager,
01 852 9641 / 087 468 7760
Follow us on twitter @_IHREC

Editor’s Note

The full written submission made by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission on the General Scheme of the Inspection of Places of Detention Bill are published at the following link:

Preventing Torture – The Role of National Preventative Mechanisms

To find more information on NPMs and their role in preventing torture, you can access a Practical Guide issued by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights by clicking here.

Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is an independent public body, appointed by the President and directly accountable to the Oireachtas. The Commission has a statutory remit set out under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act (2014) to protect and promote human rights and equality in Ireland, and build a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding in the State.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is Ireland’s national human rights institution and is recognised as such by the United Nations. The Commission is also Ireland’s national equality body for the purpose of a range of EU anti-discrimination measures.