Ireland’s statutory prisons watchdog, the Office of the Inspectorate of Prisons (OIP), has recently completed a thematic inspection of the provision of mental health care to people in prisons.

This inspection, which took place in late February and early March 2023, included visits to seven of the twelve prisons in the State: Cloverhill, Cork, the Dóchas Centre, Limerick, Midlands, Mountjoy and Portlaoise.

The focus of the inspection was on the treatment and conditions of people held in prison who are experiencing serious mental illness.

In addition to visiting prisons and speaking in private with people living in them, prison officers, health care staff and management, the inspection team held consultations with Irish Prison Service senior officials including: Mr Fergal Black, Director of Care & Rehabilitation; Dr John B. Devlin, Clinical Director, Dr Emma Regan, Head of Psychological Services and Mr Enda T. Kelly, National Operational Nurse Manager.

The OIP inspection team consisted of:

  • Mr Mark Kelly, Chief Inspector
  • Ms Helen Casey, Deputy Chief Inspector
  • Dr Ciara O’Connell, Senior Inspector
  • Ms Fiona O’Dea, Inspector

They were assisted by two independent experts:

  • Dr Clive Meux, Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist
  • Mr Andy Flynn, Registered Mental Health Nurse

Commenting on the inspection, Chief Inspector Mr Mark Kelly said:

“In many countries, people experiencing serious mental illness remain confined in prisons, which cannot offer them an appropriate therapeutic environment. During this inspection, our team focused on the manner in which the mental health needs of people living in Irish prisons are being met. Our inspection report will highlight the genuinely caring approach of many prison staff, while stressing the urgent need for further reform in this area”.

The inspection report is currently being drawn up and will be shared with the Director General of the Irish Prison Service and submitted by the Chief Inspector to the Minister for Justice, with a view to its publication.


Dr Clive Meux has worked as a Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist for over 30 years in high and medium secure hospitals and in the community, as well as in a maximum security prison (the Close Supervision Centre at HMP Woodhill); he was the Clinical Director of a large forensic mental health service with in-reach teams working in various prisons and then the Medical Director of a large NHS Trust; he has worked as an expert for the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) on 35 missions in 15 states, including inspection visits in over 60 prison establishments and as an expert for the Council of Europe on numerous projects (including on mental healthcare in prisons). He has also assisted HM Prisons Inspectorate as an expert assessing the UK CSC system.

Mr Andy Flynn qualified as a Mental Health Nurse in 1989 and has maintained his registration with the UK’s Nursing & Midwifery Council. He has a Diploma in forensic mental healthcare, a Degree in Psychosocial Interventions with Severe and Enduring Mental Health Needs and a Certificate in Using a Cognitive Analytic Therapy Approach to Patients with Complex Needs in Forensic Settings. He retired from the NHS in 2018 where he had worked as a Mental Health Nurse gaining significant experience as both a clinician and senior manager within the spectrum of forensic mental health services, including in-patient medium and high security mental health units and prison mental health services. He has significant experience in working with high harm risk prisoners with psychotic and personality disordered presentations.

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The Office of the Inspector of Prisons is a statutory body, independent in how it carries out its work, set up under the Prisons Act 2007.

The law underpinning the role of Chief Inspector of Prisons is set out in Part 5, Sections 30 to 32 of the Prisons Act 2007. Section 30 provides for the appointment of the Chief Inspector, Section 31 sets out the functions of the Chief Inspector and Section 32 specifies the requirement to submit an Annual Report to the Minister for Justice, by 31 March in any year.

Under Section 31 of the Act the Chief Inspector of Prisons is obliged to carry out regular inspections of prisons and for this purpose may:

at any time enter any prison or any part of a prison,

request and obtain from the Governor a copy of any books, records, other documents or extracts from such documents, and, in the course of an inspection or arising out of an inspection bring any issues of concern to the notice of the governor of the prison concerned, the Director General of the Irish Prison Service or the Minister as the Chief Inspector considers appropriate.

The Chief Inspector may, and must if he receives a request from the Minister, investigate any matter arising out of the management or operation of a prison and shall submit to the Minister a report on any such investigation.

Governors, prison officers, other persons employed in prisons and prisoners, must as far as reasonably practicable, comply with any request for information that the Inspector may make in the performance of his or her functions.

Since 2012, the Chief Inspector has been tasked by the Minister with the investigation into the circumstances of all deaths in custody and those within one month of temporary release from custody.

In addition to the legislative authority derived from the Act, the Inspector has specified functions under Prison Rules 2007-2013 in relation to the Irish Prison Service Prisoner Complaints Procedure (Rule 57B) and letters from prisoners (Rule 44(1)(h)).

It is anticipated that, in the near future, the Inspectorate will become the Inspectorate of Places of Detention, with an expanded remit as the National Preventive Mechanism for the Justice sector under the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention Against Torture (OPCAT).

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