Helen McEntee approved housing of inmate alongside prisoners of the opposite sex
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Justice Minister Helen McEntee authorised the Irish Prison Service to house a prisoner with inmates of the opposite sex in March 2021.
The Department of Justice has declined to explain the reasoning behind the decision, which is revealed in records released following a Freedom of Information (FoI) request.
The issue of the housing of transgender prisoners was spoken about by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last month when he was asked about Barbie Kardashian, who is being held in the women’s section of Limerick Prison after being convicted of threatening to kill, rape and torture her mother.
Mr Varadkar said he did not believe violent transgender women should be housed with women prisoners. It was reported last week that the Irish Prison Service (IPS) is preparing to move Kardashian out of Limerick over staff safety concerns.
Transferring Kardashian, who changed from male to female in 2020 in accordance with the 2015 Gender Recognition Act, to a male prison may require Simon Harris, the stand-in Justice Minister, to issue a ministerial authorisation.
Documents released under FoI show there have been consultations between the IPS and the most senior officials in the Department of Justice on the issue of transgender prisoners since at least 2020.
In November 2020, Martin Smyth, director of operations in the IPS, wrote to Ben Ryan, head of policy in the Department of Justice, to set out the rules on prisoners.
Mr Smyth said the 1914 legislation governing the transfer of prisoners was “gender neutral” so the minister was not restricted to moving a female prisoner from a female prison to another female prison.
He said the issue of accommodation was governed by a 2007 Statutory Instrument. He said this also did not require the separation of genders but “for obvious reasons of operational considerations and security” it was always the case that “both genders were separated”.
Mr Smyth said Rule 52 of the 2007 rules “specifically allows for the mixing of females and males in the prison context”.
It states: “Unless otherwise authorised by the minister, male and female prisoners shall be accommodated in separate areas to which prisoners of the opposite gender do not normally have access.”
Mr Smyth’s memo was submitted for “information and consideration” purposes.
Mr Ryan responded that it was “likely” that there would be “media attention” on the matter shortly so it was important the minister had a submission from the IPS on the issue “quite soon”.
Smyth responded that he was “slightly confused” by this. He had been asked to respond to “a suggestion” on an issue that is redacted from his email released under FoI.
He believed the department would consider the matter “due to the obvious sensitivities involved” before any submission to the minister. He had just been informed another part of the department had sought information about “the second prisoner discussed”.
The chain of records ends on February 14 with Ms McEntee’s approval sought in accordance with Rule 52 (1) of the prison rules.
Oonagh Buckley, the secretary general at the department, is recorded agreeing with the recommendation, the full details of which are redacted. Ms McEntee agreed with the Rule 52 recommendation on March 10, 2021.
This week the department declined to set out how many such ministerial authorisations under Rule 52 have been granted. It “does not comment on the operational handling of individual cases”.
“We can confirm that as set out in section 52 of the Prison Rules, the minister’s authorisation, following consideration of any such cases by the IPS and a recommendation made by the IPS, is required in any case where a prisoner is to be accommodated with people of the opposite gender,” a spokesperson said.
“At all times, all decisions taken in relation to the management of prisons by the IPS are guided by the need to ensure the safety, security and human rights of prisoners and staff.”
While the IPS was said in January to be preparing to issue a new policy on housing trans prisoners “shortly”, this weekend it said it would not be finalised for “months”.