That Dáil Éireann,
bearing in mind the public concern arising from the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Gary Douch, a prisoner who had been placed in a holding cell in Mountjoy Prison;
noting that the matter raises serious issues about the management and treatment of prisoners in need of protection or special attention;
and noting that it is the opinion of the Government that a commission of investigation represents the most effective method of examining the serious issues involved;
further noting that a draft order proposed to be made by the Government under the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 (No. 23 of 2004) has been duly laid before Dáil Éireann in respect of the foregoing matters referred to, together with a statement of reasons for establishing a commission under that Act;
approves the draft Commission of Investigation (Matters arising from the death of Mr. Gary Douch) Order, 2007, and the statement of reasons for establishing a commission of investigation.
The death of Mr. Gary Douch while in prison custody is a tragedy for which there can be no excuses. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has apologised to the mother and family of Gary Douch. When the Government approved the proposal to establish a commission of investigation, the Minister wrote to her telling her of the decision to establish a commission of investigation. It was totally wrong that her son should have suffered the fate he did while in the custody of the State and the Minister has offered her his most heartfelt apologies. It is important for all of us that the necessary lessons be learnt and that future similar tragedies be avoided.
Let me set out the bare facts that give rise to this motion. On 31 July 2006, Mr. Douch expressed concerns about his safety while imprisoned on C wing of Mountjoy Prison. He was moved from C wing and placed in holding cell No. 2 in the B base area with five other prisoners. On the morning of 1 August 2006, shortly before 7 a.m., the holding cells in the B base area of Mountjoy prison were opened. When holding cell No. 2 was opened, prisoners filed out and it was noticed that one prisoner was missing. Staff entered the cell and discovered Mr. Douch. Unsuccessful attempts were made to resuscitate him and he was brought to the Mater Hospital where he was pronounced dead. The indications are that Mr. Douch had died as a result of an assault in the cell by a prisoner who was also there for his protection.
Within hours of hearing of the death, the Minister appointed Mr. Michael Mellett to carry out an independent inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the tragic death of Mr. Douch while in custody in Mountjoy Prison. In particular, he was appointed to establish what action was taken by the Irish Prison Service, management and staff to safeguard Mr. Douch; to clarify whether Mr. Douch had expressed special concerns about his safety; to establish what procedures were followed and their adequacy; to establish the procedures used to allocate prisoners to the cell in which Mr. Douch died; to establish the level of monitoring during the night of 31 July and morning of 1 August 2006; and to make any observations and recommendations he saw fit.
Mr. Mellett had previous experience in prison matters as a senior official in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform but had moved on from the Department before his appointment to carry out this inquiry. He was therefore fully independent of the Irish Prison Service and the Department in carrying out his duties. He carried out his task in an exemplary and clearly independent manner and his report submitted to the Department in March 2007 outlines the unvarnished truth covering the issues set out in his terms of reference. It is because of the material he has uncovered that the Government has decided a statutory commission of investigation with extended terms of reference is warranted. Mr. Mellett accepted a difficult task at short notice and did an excellent job. I acknowledge publicly the work he has done.
Interim steps have been taken to reduce the risk of a recurrence of an incident of this type. The holding cell where the death occurred has been permanently taken out of service. On 2 August 2006, Mr. Mellett recommended as an interim measure that where a prisoner seeks special protection alleging a threat from another prisoner and the prison authorities accept that there may be some substance to the allegation, the threatened prisoner should be removed to a single occupancy cell for at least 24 hours. This is to allow time for the prison authorities to investigate the source, nature and seriousness of the threat, evaluate the risk to the prisoner and thus inform decisions on how best to deal with the matter. The Minister accepted that recommendation and directed that it be implemented immediately.
On 17 August 2006, the Minister issued two new committal directions, which had the effect of diverting committals from Carlow, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Offaly and Westmeath away from Mountjoy to the Midlands Prison and committals from Louth, Meath, Monaghan, Wexford and Wicklow away from Mountjoy to Wheatfield Prison. This direction reduces the danger of Mountjoy Prison being overwhelmed by any sudden surge of committals.
As in all such cases, the Garda Síochána was called to Mountjoy Prison and initiated a criminal investigation into the death of Gary Douch. A file was sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions and as a result an individual has recently been charged with causing the death of Gary Douch. The progress of those criminal proceedings is a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions and the judicial arm of the State. The Minister has no role in those proceedings but is under a duty not to do anything or reveal any information that might prejudice criminal proceedings. Although it was his intention to publish the report of Mr. Mellett, the Minister has received strong advice from the Attorney General that he should not do so. The Minister is constrained in what he can say about the events of that night. I trust that Members of this House will exercise similar caution when discussing the case.
I can say that Mr. Mellett identified a number of systems failures within the prisons system that may have contributed to the death of Mr. Douch. The findings of the report have serious implications for the future management of our prisons. It is clear that a review going beyond the scope of the Mellett investigation's terms of reference is warranted. A detailed sworn investigation is essential to address matters of public importance. The gravity of the matter is such that the Minister and his Government colleagues are of the view that a full statutory commission of investigation is required to address the matter.
The Commission of Investigation Act 2004 provides for the establishment of a commission of investigation to investigate any matter considered by the Government to be of significant public concern. Such commissions are completely independent and generally hear evidence in private. A commission may direct any person to attend before it to give evidence, examine witnesses on oath and direct that documents be produced. A commission can authorise a person to enter premises, inspect documents and take copies and it is an offence to obstruct such a person in carrying out his or her duties. It can direct costs to be paid in certain circumstances. It is an offence to make a false statement to a commission. A person giving evidence has the same immunities and privileges as a witness in court. The report of a commission must be published unless otherwise directed by a court.
The matters to be investigated are serious and may have implications for the good name and reputation of individuals. It is important that the investigation is pursued in a proper legal framework, where the commission has the full panoply of legal powers required to establish the truth and where procedures ensure that the constitutional rights of individuals are respected.
While the terms of reference may only be finalised after the resolutions have been passed and the order made by the Government, the intention is that the terms of reference would require the commission to carry out any further investigations it considers necessary into the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Gary Douch, to examine the management, including transfers, and in particular the chronology of treatment, including medical treatment, of the individual identified as Prisoner A, taking into account all available information and documentation in that regard and examining all persons whose testimony may throw light on the issues that arise.
The intention is that the terms of reference would require a review of policies, practice and procedures regarding the safety of prisoners in custody whether in prison, a place of detention, the Central Mental Hospital or another institution and, in particular, a review of protocols for those prisoners with specific behavioural problems or vulnerability such as psychiatric, violent or disruptive prisoners and those in need of additional protection. It is intended that the terms of reference would require the commission to make recommendations on what policies and/or legislative measures should be adopted in the future for the management and treatment of such prisoners with a view to promoting the safety and health of prisoners, providing a secure and safe environment for prisoners and persons dealing with prisoners, to safeguard the public interest, to ensure that lessons are learnt and that recurrence of such tragedy is prevented and to report to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform by 31 December 2007.
Prisoner A is accused of causing the death of Mr. Douch. Mr. Mellett's report makes it clear that some of the most significant questions relate not so much to the victim and his management within the prison system but to how Prisoner A was managed and treated while in State custody. Both prisoners were under protection and a detailed investigation is required into how prisoners requiring protection are managed. We are at one in wanting to see a prison system in which prisoners are kept in safe and secure custody. It is important that we establish what happened, learn from the experience and take corrective action to ensure that it does not happen again.
Subject to the approval of the resolution by both Houses of the Oireachtas, the intention is to appoint Ms Gráinne McMorrow, an experienced senior counsel with a background in mental health and criminal law and experience of both the UK and Irish systems, to be the sole member of the commission of investigation.
The Minister, with the approval of the Minister for Finance, made a proposal to the Government that a commission of investigation be established. The Government has agreed but before the necessary order can be made a draft of the proposed order and a statement of reasons for establishing the commission must be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and a resolution approving the draft must be passed. The draft order has been so laid and provides that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is authorised to set the terms of reference, to appoint the members of the commission and to receive the commission's report in due course. The Minister has already advised the House of the proposed terms of reference and proposes to appoint Ms Gráinne McMorrow as the sole member of the commission. Once the appropriate resolution has been passed by both Houses and the order made by the Government the Minister will immediately set about establishing the commission.
The Minister cannot go into detail on the circumstances surrounding the death of Gary Douch. I do not want to anticipate or pre-empt the findings of the commission of investigation. A point that strikes one reading Mr. Mellett's report is his account of the physical conditions in Mountjoy Prison, particularly the holding cell. The Minister has always made it clear that he is not happy with the conditions in Mountjoy Prison. Conditions there were equally bad, if not worse, when the present Government first took office. On becoming Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in 2002 one of the first official engagements of Deputy McDowell was to visit Mountjoy Prison. The Minister said that it was an eye opener. He found a Victorian prison, built in 1850, in a poor state of repair, overcrowded and lacking adequate facilities such as in-cell sanitation. Some 30% of the Irish prison population was incarcerated within the 20-acre campus and there was no room for expansion.
Until the Minister took office there was much talk and very little action about Mountjoy. Deputy McDowell was the first Minister with responsibility for justice to tackle the problem seriously and propose the obvious solution of building a new prison facility on a green field site rather than trying to fiddle around with a 150 year old building on a cramped site in a high density urban area. The same people who criticise conditions in Mountjoy criticised that proposal. Those same people, many of whom are in this House, continue to criticise every step the Minister has taken to make progress on what will be the most important prison development project on this island since Mountjoy was first mooted. I am proud to say that we have now reached the stage where we have an excellent site and are negotiating with a preferred bidder with a view to signing a contract. There is every reason to believe that work will start before the end of this year with the new facility coming on stream in 2010.
The replacement of Mountjoy, along with other major capital works, will mean that the indignity of slopping out will come to an end, every prisoner will have a single occupancy cell with in-cell sanitation, there will be no drugs flying over the walls and there will be an extensive range of facilities to encourage the rehabilitation of prisoners. There will be a range of facilities with different levels of security allowing prisoners to be kept in separate regimes depending on their categorisation and based on an assessment of risk.
Before this Government took office in 1997, the Irish prison system had suffered from a lack of capital investment and a lack of attention. The Minister devoted much personal energy to tackling and solving the chronic overtime problem in the Irish Prison Service as well as the need for substantial capital investment, allowing a radical transformation of the Irish Prison Service and its estate. That capital investment is well advanced and the benefits will be with us for years to come.
In the period since taking over as Minister in 2002 more than €280 million has been invested in prison buildings. The Irish Prison Service is currently engaged in a major capital building programme involving the replacement of the four prisons on the Mountjoy campus, namely the Mountjoy male prison, the Dóchas centre, the training unit and St. Patrick's Institution, with the Thornton campus, Portlaoise Prison, Cork Prison and the older parts of Limerick Prison. Between them, these comprise nearly 40% of the entire prison estate.
The new prison proposed for Thornton Hall is being procured on a value for money public private partnership basis. The new campus at Thornton will have a total capacity of approximately 1,400 spaces including an assessment centre, high, medium and lower security facilities and step down facilities. The campus design is regime-orientated and will allow for the development of progressive rehabilitative programmes, the introduction of enhanced educational and work training facilities and the introduction of single person cells with in-cell sanitation to end the inhumane practice of slopping out. In addition, the new prison complex will also be constructed with an extensive perimeter to prevent drugs being thrown over the wall, thus making it possible to have a drug-free prison regime.
A consortium was recently selected as the preferred bidder to design, build, maintain and finance the new prison facilities. The Government has given its approval for the project to proceed to the contract phase, which will be signed subject to the successful conclusion of detailed negotiations. The intended target date for completion of the replacement Mountjoy complex is 2010.
On the development of a new Munster prison to replace the existing Cork Prison, the Government has recently approved the Minister's proposal to construct a new prison built on a site at Kilworth, County Cork. The need to replace Cork Prison is indisputable. The prison was first opened in 1806 as a military detention barracks and subsequently converted for civilian use in the 1970s. Conditions are far from ideal in the prison and the vast majority of prisoners have to slop out on a daily basis.