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Senator Bacik speaking on Mountjoy Prison, and the Abbey Theatre

15 October 2009

Order Of Business

Senator Ivana Bacik: I ask the Leader, as I have done on many times, for a debate on prisons in light of the disturbing news that the Irish prison population has exceeded 4,000 for the first time ever. According to the Irish Penal Reform Trust, this exceeds safe custody limits. Indeed, one need not be told that by the trust. I urge any Senator who has not already do so to go into Mountjoy Prison, as I have done on many occasions - indeed, I have brought my students from Trinity College - to see the appalling conditions in which we ask people to survive. This is not in any way to excuse or to justify the crimes for which they are in there, but it is brutalising and dehumanising of individual men to place them five or six to a cell built for one or two men and to have them slop out, that is, to perform toilet functions, in front of other people. It is distressing to read that the prison population has exceeded 4,000 because that means Mountjoy Prison is full of overcrowded cells. I would ask the Leader for a debate on this.

I also ask for an answer to the question I have asked many times as to what is happening with Thorton Hall. I have spoken against the idea of expanding the number of prison places because we need to look again at sentencing policy and why we are sending so many people to prison for minor non-violent offences. However, we need to see as a matter of urgency reform of prison conditions to ensure prisoners are not living in inhumane conditions. Thornton Hall is McDowell's folly. It was a plan instituted by former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell, at a different time, and it should be moth-balled. Instead, we should see a commitment given to reform of the conditions in Mountjoy Prison and I ask the Leader for his answer on that.

I congratulate Senator Norris on his excellent article in The Irish Times today on the potential move of the Abbey Theatre to the GPO and I support his call for a debate on this. It is important we debate it. I fully support the idea that the Abbey Theatre should be relocated there but I would say that we need to preserve some sort of working post office function in the GPO because it is important that the facade is not closed during the daytime and that on such an important street, the main street in the city centre, there is activity going on there during the daytime if the Abbey Theatre is located there. When we saw Hollywood coming to Leinster House yesterday we should be reminded of the considerable economic benefit of the film industry and the theatre industry.