I am aware of the claims made in the Amnesty International report for 2005 but am firmly of the view that they are not well founded. I will address the position in respect of each of the categories of person referred to by the Deputy in turn.
Beginning with the rights of people with disabilities, I believe the Government has demonstrated its commitment by developments over the past eight years, including more recently, the national disability strategy which was launched by the Taoiseach on 21 September 2004. The launch involved seven Ministers with direct responsibility for the various elements of the strategy which comprises four elements: the Disability Bill 2004, which is the direct responsibility of my colleague, the Minister of State with responsibility for disability equality in my Department, Deputy Frank Fahey; the Comhairle (Amendment) Bill 2004, which is the responsibility of the Minister for Social and Family Affairs; six outline sectorial plans which are the responsibility of the Ministers for Health and Children, Social and Family Affairs, Transport, Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, and Enterprise, Trade and Employment; and a multi-annual investment programme, from 2005 to 2009, providing over €1 billion for high priority disability support services, mainly in the health and education areas, which was announced as part of the budget on 1 December 2004.
The strategy builds on existing policy and legislation including the Employment Equality Act 1998, the Equal Status Act 2000, the Equality Act 2004 and the Education of Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 and the policy of mainstreaming service for people with disabilities within the State agencies that provide the service to citizens generally.
The Disability Bill is a positive action measure designed to support the provision of disability specific services to people with disabilities and to improve access to mainstream public services for people with disabilities.
The national disability strategy overall presents a practical approach to recognising rights, including in particular increased investment to build service capacity and structures to inform planning and development of key services.
Turning to the claims made in respect of asylum seekers, in focusing on the Immigration Act 2004, the report fails to take account of the vibrant and thriving jurisprudential environment in this jurisdiction which has shown itself to be well capable of ensuring that the highest human rights standards are maintained and developed. The report's analysis therefore minimises the impact of the Constitution, the aforementioned jurisprudence and other relevant statutory provisions, including the Human Rights Act 2003.
The Act of 2004 represents only part of the picture. For example, the general prohibition onrefoulement and the right of an asylum seeker to enter the State are dealt with in the Refugee Act 1996, but are nonetheless central to the Irish immigration regime. Similarly criticism of the absence of a statutory appeal mechanism in relation to the making of a deportation order fails to take into account that such orders constitute the end of a protracted process under the Immigration Act 1999 which guarantees the applicant the right to be made aware of a ministerial proposal to deport, to make representations and to have those representations taken into account. In the case of failed asylum seekers, those entitlements follow a statutory right to independent consideration of claim by two separate independent agencies.
In so far as the criticism in relation to monitoring of immigration controls at airports is concerned, it is not clear to me that the persons performing immigration duties at busy ports and airports throughout the State, acting on my behalf, are incapable of discharging their duties in accordance with law unless they are attended by "independent human rights monitors" particularly when no evidence is adduced to suggest that a contrary situation exists. The Deputy will be aware that the Human Rights Commission is, in accordance with its functions under the Human Rights Commission Act 2000 charged with keeping under review the adequacy and effectiveness of law and practice in the State relating to the protection of human rights and to that end is empowered to conduct relevant inquiries either of its own volition or at the request of any person.
With reference to the Irish born child issue, the constitutional probity of my approach to the residency of the parents was upheld by the Supreme Court in the case of L and Ov Minister for Justice  1 I.R. 1. Notwithstanding the outcome of that case, I am currently in the process of examining the applications of 18,000 non-national parents for residency in the State on the basis of their parentage of Irish citizen children.
With regard to the claims made in respect of prisoners, Amnesty International's report states,inter alia, that detention conditions did not comply with international standards. I can inform the Deputy that there are standing independent mechanisms for systematic oversight of the operation of the prison system and of the conditions of custody and the treatment of all persons detained therein. These are as follows: prison visiting committees, which visit at frequent intervals the prison to which they are appointed and hear any complaints made to them by prisoners. Visiting committees have free access, collectively or individually, to every part of the prison. Prison visiting committees report to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and their reports are published. There is the Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention, who is responsible for inspecting and reporting on prison conditions, including the health, safety and well-being of prisoners. There is also the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which during its visit to a State party, has the right of unimpeded access at any time of the day or night to any place where persons are detained. To date, the committee has visited Ireland on a total of three occasions in 1993, 1998 and 2002.
In so far as education and employment programmes are concerned, I can inform the Deputy that the Irish Prison Service employs a number of means to encourage prisoners to bring about positive development within themselves, including programmes in the areas of education,vocational and pre-vocational training and lifeskills; specific programmes and individual counselling to address criminogenic factors, for example, anger management, sex offenders programmes; individual and group counselling and support; drug treatment; and facilitating the involvement of voluntary organisations in providing appropriate prisoner support services.
These programmes are delivered by a wide range of specialist services that operate in the prisons, such as psychologists, teachers, probation and welfare officers and prison officers.
Significant developments in the areas of prisoner education and work and training are as follows: in regard to education, participation in prison education continues to be greater than 50% which is very high by international standards. At the end of 2004, the participation rate was 51%. Almost half of the participants were intensively involved, that is, for more than ten hours per week of classes.
Other developments of note include Prison Education in Ireland — A Review of the Curriculum, which was published in 2004 and continues to inform the future development of the prison education curriculum, and a prison adult literacy survey and guidelines for quality literacy work in prisons which were published in 2003. Implementation of the survey recommendations and the guidelines is ongoing. For example, the prison education service will be co-ordinating the introduction for the prisoner population of the literacy assessment tool, Mapping the Learning Journey, to be launched by the National Adult Literacy Agency in 2005. This tool will provide the first national framework for monitoring and recording the progress of literacy learners.
In regard to work and training, the Irish Prison Service is continuing to work with FÁS and other vocational training bodies to review and update, where appropriate, work and training activities and courses to ensure that prisoners can access marketable skills and vocational qualifications to improve their prospects of employability in the labour market on their release.
To assist in the monitoring and evaluation of the effectiveness of the work and training services to prisoners, the Irish Prison Service is developing a work-training database which will be rolled out to all institutions during 2005. The database will facilitate the tracking of prisoners' participation and progress in work and training activities and courses during the course of their time in custody.
In relation to the report's concerns regarding an independent and impartial individual complaints mechanism for prisoners, the Deputy may be aware that I have recently published new draft prison rules which will replace the current outdated 1947 rules. The prison rules deal with all aspects of prison life, including discipline.
The new rules provide for a comprehensive approach to prison discipline for prisoners, allowing for independent hearings for serious cases and an appeals mechanism. Full account of international instruments, including the latest draft of the European prison rules, rulings of the European Court of Human Rights and best practice have been taken in drafting the new rules. The rules respect the rights of prisoners while taking account of the practicalities of running a prison and ensuring prisoners are kept in safe and secure custody.
Although I expect to sign the rules into law during the summer, a lead-in time of several months will be required to give an opportunity for prison staff and others to familiarise themselves with the new rules. It is my intention therefore that the new rules will enter into force in November 2005.
Under existing procedures, a prisoner may complain of ill-treatment to the governor of the prison, a member of the visiting committee of the prison, the director general of the Irish Prison Service or to me, as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It is also open to a prisoner to report a matter to the Garda Síochána, pursue a civil action for damages in the courts or communicate a complaint to any appropriate third party. Rule 109 of the Rules for the Government of Prisons 1947 provides that a prison officer shall without delay inform the governor of any prisoner who desires to see him, or to make any complaint or to prefer any request to him or to any superior authority.
Where a prisoner makes a complaint alleging ill-treatment, the complaint is investigated by the governor. In any case where a criminal offence is disclosed, the governor may request the Garda Síochána to undertake a police investigation with a view to obtaining evidence to support a criminal prosecution.
Based on the findings of the report of an investigation into a complaint of ill-treatment, the governor may decide to take disciplinary action against a member of staff in accordance with the Prison (Disciplinary Code for Officers) Rules 1996.
In considering the claims made in respect of funding of services in the field of domestic violence and violence against women, the Deputy should note that main responsibility for funding organisations supporting victims of such violence lies with the Department of Health and Children. That Department is responsible for the provision of health and social services to victims of violence, including domestic violence, rape and sexual assault. In the main, these services are provided by non-governmental organisations who receive funding for this work from the Department. In addition, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is responsible for the provision of crisis accommodation such as refuges.
My Department is responsible for any necessary responses from the civil and criminal justice systems, for any preventative measures which can be put in place, including intervention programmes for perpetrators of domestic violence and for awareness raising measures aimed at changing society's attitude to violence against women. My Department also co-ordinates the work of the national steering committee on violence against women and the Deputy may wish to note that a new strategic plan is currently being drawn up, with broad consultation, to identify a work programme in this area for the next five years.
I can further inform the Deputy that an interdepartmental group comprising the Departments with responsibilities in relation to violence against women, has been convened by my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Frank Fahey, and chairperson of the national steering committee on violence against women, to discuss the roles, responsibilities and budgets available within each Department towards addressing the issue. I expect this group to report this summer and that its conclusions will feed into the preparation of next year's Estimates.
The claims made by Amnesty International do not stand up under careful analysis or when confronted with the considerable investment of resources and expertise devoted to providing services to the categories of person referred to.