Prison Development (Confirmation of Resolutions) Bill 2013: Second Stage
Thursday, 27 June 2013
I welcome the Minister and compliment her on her performance on the radio last Sunday. I saw a tweet this morning on the Twitter machine which I thought was very appropriate for today, as follows: “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” That quote is from Nelson Mandela. It is very appropriate today, as he faces his own battle, that we remember those words. Prison is not just about being incarcerated; it is about bringing people from a past life to a future life. That is why we should use Nelson Mandela’s words today to remind ourselves that justice is not just about holding people to account and making them serve time but also about rehabilitation. That is why I very much welcome this Bill dealing with Cork Prison.
As the Minister and Deputy Dara Murphy know well, the prison is in a part of Cork that needs regeneration and modernisation. As somebody who taught in that part of the city for a number of years, I know the people are genuine, decent people. The staff of Cork Prison require a facility that is fit for purpose. We must put this in context. The staff should not have to work in a service that is inadequate, undermines their morale and does not portray a good image of the prison services. We must be respectful of the role our prison services and those who work in them play.
I commend all of those within the prison service, who, by and large, do tremendous work, often in circumstances in which their own patience and sense of value is questioned unfairly. From talking to many prison officers and governors in Cork, I know these people are decent, genuine, caring people who want what is best for those with whom they have to work alongside their colleagues. They do not want those under their care to be further undermined and they want our prison population to be rehabilitated, by and large. Some prisoners will not be rehabilitated, and we must face that challenge.
I have made a journey in this regard because I was one of the old “flog them, lock them up and throw away the key” brigade, but in my life as a school teacher and politician who has met families, former prisoners, past pupils who have been in prison and pupils who are in prison, I recognise that life is not black and white. In our journey of life we undergo much evolution, and one realisation is that we all deserve to be treated with respect, no matter who we are. We must always be held to account and justice must always be seen to be served on those who deserve to be put in that situation.
This is a very significant day. I congratulate the Irish Prison Service on the launch of its LGBT network, Inside Out. This is Gay Pride week and I welcome the decision of the staff and, in particular, the director general, and thank them for their support of LGBT staff. This is a very significant journey for the Irish Prison Service and its staff. In Gay Pride week it is important in this House to acknowledge that journey. Some members of staff may be afraid to come out and admit to their sexuality, but others not so. The network proclaims to the outside world that staff in the Irish Prison Service can help to shape future policy and influence the lives of so many. It is a fantastic day and I am very proud to support them. I congratulate all those involved in the Irish Prison Service.
Much has been made of the condition of Cork Prison and associated issues. This is a significant moment in the history of the prison. A modern building will cater for the needs of those who are incarcerated in it and the staff.
I wish to make a point about white collar crime. This week has seen the publication of the Anglo Irish Bank tapes, known as the Anglo tapes. It is a significant moment in the nation’s history. I do not wish to make a controversial comment on the tapes, but I ask why they have been revealed now; who revealed them and whose interests are served by their being proclaimed to the outside world at this time. We are elected representatives and are all outraged at the carry-on among a coterie of the banking fraternity. A total of €64 billion of taxpayer’s money has been given to prop up the banks. All of us inside and outside this House, County from Cork to County Donegal, want to see people held to account.
Many of us would like to see those who did wrong brought to justice and, ultimately, put behind bars, but that is a matter for the courts and the inquiry, if one is to be held. I am incensed that the Government which has worked so diligently in the past two and a half years to restore our international reputation to allow the country to receive assistance from the troika suddenly has a light shone on it – for what benefit and for what purpose? I question why that has happened now. I do not take issue with the journalists involved because they are doing their job. All of us in public life want to see those who transgressed held to account. That is the very least we deserve and the very least the citizens of the country deserve, many of whom have had to emigrate or are now unemployed.
This is a very important day for Cork Prison, in which the landscape is being changed to create a prison which it is hoped will provide not just for incarceration but also rehabilitation. Education and training facilities and counselling are important in prison. More importantly, the services should include a mentoring system for young men and women to enable them to change their lives and become new citizens. The Bill provides for two groups of people, those who work and live in the prisons and also the people who live in the neighbourhood of the prison. I commend Cork City Council and the residents who engaged in the consultation process and raised many issues of concern to them. I hope the Minister, Deputy Alan Shatter, and the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, will listen to these concerns.
I refer to the interview given by the Minister of State last Sunday about the psychiatric services and St. Patrick’s Institution. I agree with her that we need to start treating people as citizens and changing the model, as it needs to be changed. I am very pleased that the Ombudsman for Children will come before the Oireachtas committee on 11 July to discuss the issue of the detention of children under 16 years. The Government has changed the modus operandi at Lusk, Oberstown and St. Patrick’s Institution. That is why this is another significant milestone on the road that the Government is taking to bring about change. I hope we can move forward in unison. I welcome the comments of the Minister at the committee and in the House a number of weeks ago. I commend the staff who work in Cork Prison for their Trojan work.