I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill. The necessity for this Bill arises from the fact that as a consequence of recent legislation it is not now possible to appoint, in accordance with statutory requirements, visiting committees for ordinary prisons or boards of visitors for convict prisons. Members of these bodies were required to be Justices of the Peace, and in the case of visiting committees the power of appointment lay (except in a few cases) with the grand juries who will not again be summoned to meet.
Before the passing of the General Prisons (Ireland) Act, 1877, the prisons in Ireland consisted of two distinct classes, i.e., (1) county and borough gaols in which prisoners awaiting trial or undergoing sentences of imprisonment were detained, and (2) convict prisons in which prisoners sentenced to penal servitude were detained. The county and borough goals were under the control of local boards of superintendence appointed by the grand juries except in the city of Dublin where the board of superintendence was appointed by the town council. The expenses of these local prisons were defrayed by presentments levied by the grand juries (or town council in Dublin). The Act of 1877 transferred the control of these prisons to the General Prisons Board, and the State took over the responsibility of providing money for their maintenance. The power of appointing visiting committees for such prisons was left with the grand juries (except in the case of Dublin city—and afterwards Waterford, Limerick and Cork, where a right of nomination was conferred on the town councils). Subsequently when many of the county prisons were closed, joint visiting committees were appointed by the grand juries of the countries served by each of the remaining prisons.
From time to time Orders in Council were made by the Lord Lieutenant determining the constitution of visiting committees, regard being had to the area served by each prison. Thus the visiting committee for Dundalk prison (which served County Louth and County Cavan) was composed of nine members, eight of whom were nominated by the grand jury for County Louth and one by the grand jury for County Cavan. The visiting committee for Mountjoy consisted of eighteen members, four of whom were nominated by the grand jury, County Dublin; one by the grand jury, County Kildare; two by the grand jury, County Meath; one by the grand jury, County Wicklow; two by the grand jury, County West-meath; and eight by the Dublin Borough Council. The Local Government Act, 1898, expressly reserved to grand juries their powers of nominating members of visiting committees.
As regards convict prisons (such as Portlaoighaise and Mountjoy convict prisons), no visiting committees could be appointed for them, and it was not until the year 1908 that statutory authority was given for the creation of boards of visitors for convict prisons in Ireland. The power of appointment rested with the Lord Lieutenant. The grand juries or borough council had no voice in the selection.
The present Bill proposes to repeal the existing statutory provisions for the appointment of visiting committees and boards of visitors, and to authorise the Minister for Justice (1) to appoint a visiting committee consisting of from six to twelve responsible persons for each prison (whether convict or non-convict); and (2) by rules to prescribe the powers and duties of such committees.