Letters to the Editor: It would be better to work towards keeping people out of prison

Among today's letter-writers, the director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust welcomes developments at Limerick Women's Prison but says diversion ought to be the priority
Letters to the Editor: It would be better to work towards keeping people out of prison

Justice Minster Helen McEntee, Irish Prison Service director general Karen McCaffrey, and prison governor Mark Kennedy at the opening of the new facilities at Limerick Prison. Picture: Brendan Gleeson

I welcome the enhanced conditions at the new Limerick Women’s Prison opened by the Minister for Justice last week — ‘It’s a great move forward for society’: Limerick Prison opens new luxury women’s wing' (Irish Examiner, October 18). The standards at Limerick prison will afford women the rights and the dignity that they deserve, and we should aspire to those standards across the prison estate. 

However, it’s a far cry from the inhumane conditions in prisons such as Mountjoy, as outlined in the Office of Inspector of Prisons Annual Report 2022 earlier this month. 

The only other women’s prison in the State, the Dóchas Centre at Mountjoy, was at 120% capacity on the same day the new Limerick prison was opened.

While the new, state-of-the-art accommodation is welcome, we must not forget that this is still a high security prison. New facilities for mothers and their babies at Limerick prison will help women bond with their baby, but the de facto position should be to explore every possible alternative before imprisoning a pregnant woman.

The Irish Prison Service Annual Report 2022 shows an increase in the percentage of women committed to prison, with women making up 11% of the prison population. The Probation Service Annual Report 2022 also indicated that it dealt with an increased number of women in 2022. This would suggest that more women are in the criminal justice system overall.

Just because we have more places in prisons doesn’t mean we should fill them. Diverting women — and also men — away from prison where possible should be the priority. 

We certainly shouldn’t be creating more prison spaces or increasing capacity. There has been established cross-party support for more than a decade to reduce the number of people in prison yet last year we saw a 12% increase.

State investment is better spent upgrading poor quality facilities and on community-based sanctions for less serious offences. Or better yet, invest more in preventative measures to keep people out of prison in the first place.

Saoirse Brady, Executive director, Irish Penal Reform Trust

Fast-track flood prevention works

Bandon would have flooded last week if it wasn’t for the flood prevention works performed by the Office of Public Works (OPW) and others in recent years

Midleton has been decimated. The Christmas stock has been destroyed and small business owners up and down Midleton’s main street cannot bear to think about Christmas. A horrifying thing to see. Just one of the consequences of lassitude on addressing the climate crisis. This is the ‘new normal’ — in the middle of autumn in Ireland.

This is a good government and it is assisting people as best it can. However, an ounce of prevention is worth a tonne of cure. We need fast-tracked flood prevention works.

In our national constitutional order a principle known as “the inviolability of the dwelling” is enshrined in Article 40 of Bunreacht na hÉireann. Conventionally and in practise it addresses illegal searches and seizures by State authorities. However, the spirit and priority it expresses so clearly must also be relevant to flood prevention schemes and the legal challenges made to those schemes. 

It is near to the apex of our constitutional order. 

In the hands of a homeowner whose house is being inundated and destroyed by floodwater regularly, it must trump a statutory provision or piffling procedural point in the hands of conservationists and wild-life enthusiasts.

The inviolability of the dwelling. A constitutional principle which is under-used, under-explored, and underemphasised when “interested parties” go to law obstructing flood prevention schemes here in County Cork and elsewhere. The higher your home is above ground, the more passionately interested you can be in the welfare of fish and fisheries. They should put that in the Constitution too.

Michael Deasy, Bandon, Co Cork

Pooh-pooh to poo

I notice with horror when out walking the practice of people conducting with a flourish, the awful spectacle of picking up, deftly, the dog poo of their beloved into a reverse-sided tiny plastic bag. UGH!

I mentally cannot stop thinking of the heat transferred to an unsuspecting hand as they continue this abominable act, as they then walk off swinging the prize proudly by the little knot lovingly applied.

Men, mostly, are given to eating an ice-cream cone, or an apple in the other hand, and I even once saw a guy using the same fist as he held a dog-lead in his free hand as the mutt ran on ahead, full of glee.

I’d only ask that folk would look the other way when their dogs are doing the business and move discretely away from the scene of the crime, or at least wait until people with sensitive stomachs, like me, are not the in the vicinity to be so offended by all that stooping and clutching.

Robert Sullivan, Bantry, Co Cork

Aviation’s impact

These days when we look up in north Co Dublin, we are bound to see an aeroplane trailing its contrail across the sky. Indeed, before looking up, we will hear the rumble of one aeroplane followed by another in close succession.

Air traffic is overhead day and night. Quality of life on the ground is being compromised as sleep is disturbed and aviation fumes hang in the air.

Are we the only people looking up and wondering who is pushing these passenger targets now heading towards 32m for 2023?

What if more people decided to stand on the ground and look up? What if a critical mass of our people began to look up and consider the energy consumed in the sky?

Maybe then, we could begin to consider together, the impact of
excessive flying habits on the environment.

Perhaps opening the discussion with the question as to why traffic in the air is coming under less scrutiny than petrol-run cars on the road would be a good place to start.

Fiona O’Brien, Sutton, Dublin 13

A meaningful life

I watched the two recent documentaries Misneach: Scéal Tony Flannery (TG4, October 18) and Dan Breen — My Fight for Irish Freedom (TG4, October 13). 

The documentary on Breen recalled how, towards the end of his life, he had a silver tea service, a wedding present, melted down and formed into a chalice for the altar in Kilcroney chapel as told by Joe Ambrose on page 190 in his book Dan Breen and the IRA.

Both documentaries got me thinking about the day of my ordination when the bishop in a symbolic act put a chalice and paten into my consecrated hands and said to me: “Accept from the holy people of God the gifts to be offered to him. Know what you are doing, and imitate the mystery you celebrate: model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross.”

The documentaries also got me thinking about Parsifal and The Grail legend with its many symbols which has had a profound impact on our wester civilisation and culture and sheds light on our search for the supreme value of life; for that which makes life most meaningful.

In his book, Balancing Heaven and Earth, the Jungian analyst Robert A Johnson, commenting on the quest for the Grail, said: “This story is not only about a personal quest, it is also about the evolution of consciousness for all humankind. The Grail Castle, which brings the greatest joy that a human being is capable of, is that visionary, mystical, interior world that is always just down the road. It is never very far away. But it must be earned. It isn’t just what you do in life, but the attitude by which you live. 

This is epitomised in the question: ‘Whom does the Grail serve?’ Each modern person must ask himself or herself this question.”

Pope Francis is renowned for his many symbolic acts on his apostolic journeys. I think a symbolic gesture from Rome would answer many unanswered questions raised in Misneach about a priest who is a ‘legend’ in his own lifetime and servant of the mystery that is greater than all of us.

If the once excommunicated Dan Breen turned a teapot into a Grail shortly before he died and, on the eve of the Northern Ireland Troubles, I’m sure someone in the Holy City could try to match its symbolism.

Rev Peadar O’Callaghan, Carrigtwohill, Co Cork

Standing by Israel

The reactions to Paddy Cosgrave’s comments on events in the middle-East are quite expected. Money and our type of so-called democracy is everything. They are our friends so we must stand by them no matter their crimes. Biden says the other team. Sunak says we must win. It’s like a board game to them.

Leaders of the so-called free world not called out for supporting the obliteration of innocent civilians by a horrible apartheid regime.

Despite the justified abhorrence and condemnation of any decent person of Hamas’ brutal slaughter of innocents, is there any one who will stand up and call it out for what it is. Genocide. This Israeli government has abetted horrendous suffering on the Palestinians. Terrible that we are standing idly by.

Tim Butler, The Viaduct, Cork

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