Minister Helen McEntee has confirmed that it is the position of the Department of Justice that biological males can be placed into female prisons if they say they identify as a woman.
Women’s rights groups have raised serious concerns about the safety of female prisoners after a change in the law allowed biological male criminals who said they identified as female to be placed with women in prisons.
Under the Gender Recognition Act of 2015 anyone in Ireland over the age of 18 has the right to legally change their sex by applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate. All that is required is a declaration that the person wishes to live as a particular gender, and the person does not have to have taken hormones or undergone gender reassignment surgery, or have the application overseen by a doctor.
Both women’s prisons in Ireland have now housed biologically-male transgender prisoners who have obtained a Gender Recognition Certificate. The Law Society Gazette reported in 2019 that a “pre-operative, pre-hormone therapy, male-to-female transgender prisoner” was being held in Limerick women’s prison and that “the prisoner was assigned a high level of monitoring after being convicted of ten counts of sexual assault and one count of cruelty against a child.”
A 2021 report said that the Limerick prison was now housing 3 male-to-female transgender prisoners.
In addition to the prisoner reported above, a teenager “born a man but who identifies as a female”, is on remand at the prison, faces charges of threats to kill and is considered “high risk and volatile”.
The third transgender inmate, formerly Seán Kavanagh, but now known as Shauna, was convicted of a violent assault.
In a question to the Minister for Justice, Carol Nolan TD asked: “the position of her Department with respect to ensuring that female only prisons are reserved to those that are biologically female”.
In reply, Minister McEntee said that “the Irish Prison Service is responsible for the safe and secure custody of all people held in prison. When a court makes an order committing a person to prison, the Irish Prison Service must accept that person into the prison as specified by the court.”
“All people committed to prison are accommodated in accordance with their legal gender. In some cases, the Governor may make a recommendation on the appropriate placement within the prison system, taking into consideration good order, security, operational and protection issues, available accommodation and the healthcare needs of the prisoner as well as the safety and security of other prisoners and staff.”
A RedC poll, commissioned by the feminist group The Countess earlier this year, showed that only 17% of Irish people support Ireland’s current gender change laws and believe that people should be able to legally change their sex on their birth certificate “as soon as they self-identify as or believe that they are a member of the opposite sex.”
Only 16% of people believe that sex offenders should have any legal right to change their gender at all.
In response to Minister McEntee’s question, Laoise Uí Aodha de Brún, founder of The Countess Advocacy Group said that the question and response raised “the obvious issues that arise with regard to single sex provision. “
“Niamh Smyth asked about single sex spaces & was told it was a matter for the Courts. This time we hear that the prison service has no choice but to house biological males who have a GRC, in a female prison. We thank the prison service for the security protocol it has put in place for these men housed with women but it is clear that the same system, i.e. of having them accompanied by two prison guards at all times outside their cell could just as easily be done in Mountjoy.”
“As detailed in our submission to the prison rules review, these male prisoners are not being served either, by locking them in their cells 23 hours a day. This is a breach of the Mandela rules and a clear and objective signal from the prison service of the risk these men pose to the women in the care and custody of the state. These male prisoners must be transferred to male prisons immediately. It is unconscionable to house men with women in prison regardless of how those men identify. The present arrangements are not sustainable and the alternative is sexual assault of incarcerated women and the reputational damage & liability that would ensue.”
She said it was “high time to review the Gender Recognition Act and as a bare minimum, and a matter of urgency immediately address this glaring injustice.”