It is with great pleasure I write this foreword. For a short period of time I had the honour to serve as Chairperson of the Irish Penal Reform Trust. Then and now I am deeply impressed by its work. It is a unique NGO in Ireland and fulfils a vital role in advocating for the human rights of prisoners.
The efforts of IPRT have already improved the situation of prisoners, as is evident from the present report and from research conducted by my current institution, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA).
This report, and more generally the work of the IPRT, serves as a reminder to duty bearers about their obligations to one of the most vulnerable categories of rights holders. Additionally it is a valuable source of information, which will enable other actors, such as lawyers, journalists and NGOs to better advocate for improvement and reform of penal institutions.
FRA research has shown that international recommendations to treat detention as a measure of last resort should indeed be followed, especially in the context of pre-trial detention and the detention of vulnerable persons. In this regard, and with sustained effort, could become a true pioneer.
Criminal justice serves to protect the rights and safety of victims and society, and one of the means of achieving this goal is to treat prisoners in a humane and decent way. What the IPRT has been reminding us for years – and FRA has also repeatedly stated – is that prisoners should only be punished by deprivation of liberty and not by deprivation of their dignity. In large part thanks to the work of the IPRT, Ireland is getting closer to ensuring the respect of the prisoners’ human rights in practice.
Given this progress, Ireland can and should deliver a penal system informed by the principles of human rights, dignity, humanity and social justice. However, no system can function effectively without independent monitoring, and it will be important to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and establish the National Preventive Mechanism.
Director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights