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Calls for a women's prison to be built intensify as gender inequality in the system are highlighted

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There are no female-only facilities in the Irish prison system, leading to calls for one to finally be built. Photo: Steve Humphreys

There are no female-only facilities in the Irish prison system, leading to calls for one to finally be built. Photo: Steve Humphreys

There are no female-only facilities in the Irish prison system, leading to calls for one to finally be built. Photo: Steve Humphreys

The Government has been tackled on the inequality that exists in the Irish prison system, with two open prisons for men and none for women.

Meanwhile, this Wednesday, November 4, is the date after which women work for free for the rest of the year due to the gender pay gap – with calls for more female judges in to be appointed as a matter of urgency.


Fianna Fáil TD Eamon Ó Cuiv called on Helen McEntee, the Minister for Justice, to provide a women’s open prison along the lines of Shelton Abbey or Loughan House, both of which cater for male inmates only.


One should be provided for female prisoners on the grounds of equality, he said.
Minister McEntee said in reply she was conscious that female offenders “represent a particularly vulnerable group within the prison system”, and the Prison Service was acutely aware of it.


“There is evidence that the impact of imprisonment is considerably greater on women and their wider families and as a result, modern prison facilities for women offenders are developed in a very different model from male prisons,” she said.

The Dóchas Centre, which accommodates the majority of female prisoners in Ireland, was purposely built and specifically designed for women, she told Mr Ó Cuiv in a parliamentary reply.


“A particular focus of the design of the prison was to ensure that the women accommodated in the centre had access to a regime that mirrored, as much as possible, living in ordinary accommodation and thus supported the women's reintegration to society.”


But the need to develop a “step-down facility for women” prior to release had been identified in recent years by the Probation Service and Irish Prison Service, she said.


The Outlook facility – run by the homeless charity Focus Ireland – is currently being used as a pre-release halfway house. It took in its first client from the Dóchas Centre last year, but is currently fully occupied, making further transfers impossible, meaning release is the only alternative.

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There are “no current plans” to provide an open prison for women, Minister McEntee said.


Meanwhile, gender quotas are needed for judges, a Senator said yesterday today.
Mary Seery-Kearney, a Fine Gael nominee to the upper house by the Taoiseach, says this week marks the 99th anniversary of Frances Kyle and Averil Deverell becoming the first female barristers in Ireland.


“Ireland had its first women barrister six months before the first woman was called to the English Bar. We were radical then in our courage to appoint women. More needs to be done if we are to ensure that women’s voices are heard in our courts.”
Ireland has a considerably low number of judges per head of population when compared with our European counterparts, she pointed out, with only 27.4pc of them female, a figure the Senator described as “remarkably low”.


Lower numbers of women at the senior Bar has a significant impact on the appointment of women to the judiciary, which is borne out in the low numbers of female judges, she said.


In the High Court, women constitute only 17pc of the judges, while in the Supreme Court the figure is 12.5pc, or a ratio of only one in eight, she said. (The figure of female Supreme Court judges is, in fact, 37.5pc, or a ratio of three in eight.)


“We must do better to work towards gender balance in our judiciary. There is scope to appoint additional judges across all levels of our Four Courts, using temporary gender quotas to address the imbalance,” Senator Seery-Kearney said.


“There is no doubt that great strides have been made in recent years. But the attrition rate for women from law, particularly at the Bar, remains higher when compared with their male counterparts.”


She pointed out that Wednesday is the date after which women work for free for the rest of the year due to the gender pay gap.


“The time has come for a radical shake up. If we are serious about ensuring that the voice and perspective of women is heard and at the centre of leadership and decision-making in our society, then we must address this across all areas of leadership and the judiciary should not be excluded,” Senator Seery-Kearney said.


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