My Churchill Fellowship trip to the Republic of Ireland during my fifth week of travels was wonderful. The trip took me to various parts of Ireland, including Dublin, Tipperary, Waterford and Cork. I had the incredible opportunity to revisit an ancestral home and towns, learn more about the history of the counties, the current Irish political, economic and social context that the Irish live in and where the justice system fits in with that.
My first meeting day involved meeting Niall Walsh, an ex-offender with an incredible story of his journey into and through the justice system and his life since then which has seen him become a criminologist and teacher with the Pathways Project, a post release education centre for prisoners in Dublin. Niall is also the first ex-offender to be on the Irish Penal Reform Trust Board. Niall also convenes and coordinates bi-annual expos in Mountjoy prison involving other successful ex-offenders providing prisoners with the opportunity to learn from and be inspired by their success in education and employment.
I then had a very lively and interesting meeting with John Costello, Chairman of the Irish Parole Board over lunch, followed by a lovely meeting with Mary Davis, Policy and Communications Officer from Le Cheile Mentoring and Youth Justice Support Services. Le Cheile is doing fantastic work with young people involved with the youth justice system and their families, placing the focus on restoring family relationships and also providing parents with their own mentor to help this. Le Cheile works closely with many other services along with probation and social work students from whom they receive referrals.
After my weekend trip to Tipperary, I had the opportunity to visit Mountjoy Prison in Dublin. Ray Murray from the Care and Rehabilitation Directorate in Irish Prison Headquarters, introduced me to the Head teacher in the Dorcas Centre for women, Cathy O’Flatherty and Head teacher for the Mountjoy male prison, Ciaran Leonard. Cathy took me around to meet all the women in their classes, telling them about my project and asking what they thought. It was interesting to receive their initial positive response to the idea of having a successful former female prisoner mentor them, though they could not picture themselves returning to the prison to do this at this stage. The visit and discussion with Cathy and the women certainly reminded me of the personal challenging issues facing women who end up in prison and the complexities once released which are further compounded by the lack of positive supportive relationships in their life.
I then travelled down to Waterford and Cork to meet with Jonathan Cullerton, from the Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT), Stephen Plunkett from U-Casadh and Sheila Connolly with the Cork Alliance Centre. Jonathan, Lecturer in Sociology and Criminal Justice Studies introduced me to Stephen Plunkett, founder of U-Casadh and a former prison officer and we all had a very invigorating, inspiring, interesting discussion. U-Casadh is an innovative and inspiring social inclusion project and registered charity and their mission is to be a catalyst for change in attitudes to crime, social exclusion, rehabilitation and justice. Jonathan then took me to meet some of his criminology students at WIT to speak to them about my project and have engaging discussion on all things justice, which we did.
It was delightful to meet Sheila Connolly and her team at the Cork Alliance Centre. The Cork Alliance Centre is another innovative and inspiring service, with services developed and based on the input from service users and focuses on the Choice for Change. The Cork Alliance Centre’s relationship with it’s service users is based on a collaborative partnership approach rather than an expert-recipient model. We had a wonderful, interesting and informative discussion.
My last day in the Republic of Ireland was back in Dublin meeting with Fiona Ni Chinneide, Deputy Executive Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) and Gerry McNally, Deputy Director of the Irish Probation Service. It was wonderful to meet Fiona and learn about the work of the IPRT, especially given my deep interest and passion for prison reform and also that the IPRT made Niall Walsh, an ex-offender, ‘expert by experience’ a member of their Board. It was inspiring to learn about the work of the IPRT, responding to government policies through submissions and initiating their own research and policy reform, many of which have been adopted.
It was great to finally meet Gerry McNally, Deputy Director of the Irish Probation Service. We had a great discussion about the Irish justice system, the various programs,initiatives and collaborative research and discussion papers published for the Irish Probation Service and the collaborative work with Northern Ireland and across Europe. Gerry introduced me to staff from the Community Return Program and IASIO (Irish Association for the Social Integration of Offenders). Community Return is a partnership between the Irish Prison Service and Irish Probation Service with staff working together in the Probation headquarters. IASIO is in partnership with both the prison and probation services providing the Linkage Service (education, training and employment), the Prison Gate Service and the Resettlement Service. A great finish to my Churchill Fellowship trip to the Republic of Ireland and Eire.
Nest week Stockholm, Sweden.
For more photos from my week in Ireland, please follow this link: https://onedrive.live.com/?id=6DA3E54D5BEDF625%217200&cid=6DA3E54D5BEDF625&group=0&v=photos