Thursday, 5 July 2018

Questions (1)

Jim O'Callaghan

Question:

1. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality when Ireland will ratify the optional protocol to the convention against torture which was signed up to on 2 October 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29922/18]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Justice)

I will try to keep within the time limits the Acting Chairman has prescribed. The question to the Minister for Justice and Equality concerns the optional protocol to the convention against torture. The Minister will be aware Ireland signed up to the optional protocol nearly 11 years ago, on 2 October 2007. However, we still have not ratified it. Why has Ireland not done so? When does the Minister think we will ratify it?

As the Deputy will be aware, Ireland ratified the UN convention against torture in 2002. This and previous Governments are fully committed to the convention and have fully participated in all that its ratification entails. The optional protocol to the convention against torture, OPCAT, dates from 2007. It is in addition to the convention and designed to be preventive in nature. I am fully committed to its ratification. My Department is preparing the inspection of places of detention Bill, with a view to enabling ratification of OPCAT as soon as possible. In October 2017 officials in my Department attended and participated in a round table discussion at the launch of the research of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC, into the implementation of OPCAT in Ireland. The research which comprised a comprehensive report prepared by the Human Rights Implementation Centre and accompanying submission by the IHREC outlined the commission’s position on what should be the primary considerations for the State in making progress towards ratification and implementation of OPCAT and set out recommendations for the designation and co-ordination of a national preventive mechanism under OPCAT.

The IHREC’s research was circulated by my Department to relevant stakeholders for their comments and observations. The stakeholders comprised organisations with policy or operational responsibility for inspection arrangements across the ambit of the national preventive mechanism regime provided for in OPCAT, which goes beyond the justice sector. The last of thee submissions was received in April 2018 and my officials are in the process of giving them full consideration. The process will conclude this month and a meeting has been arranged with the newly appointed Inspector of Prisons to discuss the future role of the inspector's office as part of the implementation process. This engagement will inform the development of the draft inspection of places of detention Bill to enable ratification of OPCAT. It is my intention that the draft scheme will be finalised in the autumn in order that I can bring it to the Government before the end of the year.

This week we launched our campaign to have Ireland elected as a member of the Security Council a number of years from now. I very much support that campaign. For the purposes of the campaign, we have gone about informing our colleagues in the international community that Ireland is a country that complies with the highest standards of human rights and general international standards as set down by United Nations conventions. It is absolutely essential that we ratify the optional protocol that was signed in 2007. It is welcome that the Minister has indicated that that will be done, but urgency needs to be brought to the matter. The optional protocol was signed by Ireland as far back as 2007 and no real explanation has been provided for why it has not yet been ratified. The Minister is correct. What needs to be established in statute is a national preventive mechanism. We are in a situation where very many people are detained in this country. They can be detained in police stations, care institutions and elsewhere. We need a mechanism in place to provide protection for them.

I acknowledge what the Deputy has said about Ireland's campaign to seek a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council in 2021/2022. I take from what he has said that it is a position that has the support of the main Opposition party, which I welcome. It is important in the context of Ireland's standing on the international stage. I acknowledge the importance of the attendance of the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste in New York earlier this week. My Department has been and is actively engaged with stakeholders on ratification of this instrument. We have recently completed consultations on IHREC's research into the matter. We are due to meet the Inspector of Prisons before the end of this month on the role Ms Gilheaney's office can play in ratification of the optional protocol. It is an important role. I recently met the inspector. I am very anxious to report progress on the matter before the end of the year and will keep the House fully informed of developments in that regard.

It is welcome that the Minister and the Government have emphasised the importance of Ireland's standing on the international stage. I hope he will also bring these principles to bear when he is considering the GRECO report which the Cabinet will consider today in the context of the Government's other proposals.

On the ratification of OPCAT, it is worth pointing out that last year the United Nations Committee against Torture noted that existing bodies such as the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, the prison visiting committees and the Inspector of Prisons do not automatically carry out visits to all places of deprivation of liberty such Garda stations, residential care centres for people with disabilities, nursing homes for the elderly and other care settings. We have seen recently, from a decision of the Court of Appeal, that many people are kept within care institutions. We have to ensure the highest standards apply in respect of their protection and for people held in Garda stations. I ask that urgency be brought to ratifying this so that we can have full respect within the international community.

On the Deputy's observations on the GRECO report, I expect that document will be published and available as early as possible after lunch. We will then have an opportunity to resume debate in the Seanad on this issue and, I hope, in this Chamber as well before too long. I acknowledge what the Deputy said because he makes an important point regarding OPCAT responsibilities in areas outside of the Department of Justice and Equality. My Department is liaising with several other Departments on implementing OPCAT and continues to facilitate the progression of this legislation. It is, however, a matter for each of those Departments and their Ministers to determine what facilities fall within their remit. It is my intention to bring a memo to Cabinet not this session but in the autumn and I hope to have a general scheme of a Bill published and debated before Christmas.