As the Deputy is aware, Ireland had its first examination under Article 19 of the United Nations Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment on the 22nd and 23rd of May 2011.
As part of this examination process, the Irish Human Rights Commission submitted a report to the UN Committee against Torture. Reports were also submitted to the Committee by Amnesty International, Justice for the Magdalenes, SPIRASI, Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and the Irish Penal Reform Trust and the International Disability Alliance.
The Deputy will be aware that the UN Committee against Torture issued its concluding observations on Monday 6th June 2011. These concluding observations cover a wide range of areas from prison conditions to the total prohibition of corporal punishment, the Magdalene Laundries, the follow up of the Ryan Report and the processing of applications for refugee status, all of which impact on the remit of several Government Departments. As I indicated following the publication of the Committee's observations, I will, in conjunction with my Cabinet colleagues, closely examine those observations and recommendations and the Government will, in due course, communicate with the Committee about the points raised.
As regards the Committee's observations on prison facilities, I would inform the Deputy measures are already being taken to address these issues and improve conditions in our prisons. The Programme for Government contains several commitments aimed at alleviating overcrowding, upgrading and improving facilities including in-cell sanitation, and to consider alternatives to custody which are available and can be used. On taking up office, I established a committee to review the Thornton project, to examine the need for adequate prison accommodation and to consider alternatives to custody. The Committee is due to report by 1st July and I look forward to considering their views.
Moreover, I previously informed the House that I intend to bring forward amendments to the Prison Rules 2007 which will address issues raised by the Committee and the Inspector of Prisons in the areas of complaint investigation, healthcare and deaths in custody.
In relation to the Magdalene Laundries, the Committee recommended that, "the State should institute prompt, independent, and thorough investigations into all allegations of torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment that were allegedly committed in the Magdalene Laundries and, in appropriate cases, prosecute and punish the perpetrators with penalties commensurate with the gravity of the offences committed, and ensure that all victims obtain redress and have an enforceable right to compensation including the means for as full rehabilitation as possible".
The Deputy will know that the Government decided on a number of actions following its meeting last week which considered the circumstances of the women and girls who resided in the Magdalene Laundries. The Government believes it is essential to establish the true facts and circumstances relating to the Laundries as a first step. Along with my colleague, the Minister for State for Disability, Equality, Mental Health and Older People, I am now following up on this decision with the relevant parties.
An inter-departmental Committee, chaired by an independent person, will also be set up to establish the full extent of State involvement. It was agreed by Government that an initial report on progress made should be made to cabinet within 3 months of its establishment.
In its concluding observations relating to refugees and international protection, the Committee made comments/recommendations in relation to a number of matters including provisions contained in the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2010 which is currently before this House, the lodging of appeals under the Dublin II Regulation to the Refugee Appeals Tribunal and Ireland's recognition rate in respect of persons granted refugee status.
The Deputy will be aware that the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2010 which I recently decided to restore to the Dáil Order Paper contains extensive provisions in the area of protection. The Bill comprehensively reforms and simplifies the current refugee status determination process by providing for the introduction of a single application procedure for the investigation of all grounds for protection presented by applicants.
I believe that the asylum system currently in place is both fair and robust and that it will be further enhanced by the provisions of the 2010 Bill. I am currently developing a number of amendments to the Bill before commencing Committee Stage which I hope to be in a position to do in the near future.