The Irish Prison Service has undertaken excellent work during this pandemic to prevent the spread of Covid-19. A wide range of measures was introduced to address the risks facing the service. The service is fortunate to have an executive clinical lead and a head of infection control in place. The excellent work of its teams is guided by the advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET, and is consistent with prison specific guidance of the WHO and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
At the outset, the management of the service recognised the importance of planning for future outbreaks and this has stood up to a prolonged challenge which none of us could have anticipated. I am advised that as of 23 November 2021, which was this week, a total of 277 positive cases of Covid-19 had been identified among the prisoner population since March 2020. Some 112 of these cases were committed to custody positive for Covid-19; they already had Covid before they were committed to custody. It is also important to note that for the greater part of last year, there were no cases in our prison. As virus numbers have escalated, we have seen that what happens in the community inevitably happening in our prisons, in the same way the virus comes into various care settings and other places.
I commend the Irish Prison Service and its staff, all of whom are working tirelessly to control infection while continuing to provide a range of rehabilitative support services for people in their care. They work closely with my Department and other relevant agencies, including the Courts Service, in this context. The Courts Service has also worked with absolute determination to address the challenges presented by the pandemic. A robust safety management programme and multiple operational adaptations, including through greater use of technology, have enabled the ongoing provision of the courts. The pandemic has impacted on the ability of the courts to operate in their normal function. However, a detailed management plan, similar to that in place in the prisons, is also in place in the courts and there is constant engagement between the director general of the Irish Prison Service and the CEO of the Courts Service.