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Artillery Row

The prison of silence

How the Irish state advances the trans agenda

The most striking thing about the transgender prisoner situation in Ireland is the silence that surrounds the issue. Most people are unaware that there are male-born prisoners housed in the women’s section of Limerick prison. Most people are also unaware that people can legally change sex in Ireland without having undergone any physical changes to their body. Silence in the public sphere about this topic is being imposed at the government level. 

Limerick women’s prison is the smallest prison institution in Ireland, with a bed capacity of just twenty-eight. It is also the country’s most overcrowded, with forty-six prisoners in custody. This means its bed capacity is currently at 164 per cent. 

Any adult can change their legal gender by just filling out a form

There are currently two transgender prisoners (born male) being housed in Limerick women’s prison. Barbie Kardashian was convicted in May last year of seven counts of threatening to kill. Kardashian was remanded in custody to Limerick women’s prison. Kardashian is due to appear again in court for sentencing on 16 March. Another transgender inmate held in the women’s section had been sentenced to six years and six months in prison after being convicted of ten counts of sexual assault and one count of child cruelty when the child (the prisoner’s stepson) was aged five and six years. 

The Irish Independent reported in May 2021 that a third male-born prisoner being housed in the women’s section of the prison had been sentenced to one year in prison for an attack that left a man with a fractured skull and bleeding to the brain. 

Although all these prisoners are housed in single cells and kept isolated from other prisoners, the conditions required to ensure prisoner safety for everyone enormously impacts what is an already overcrowded space as well as prison resources. 

One woman who had been an inmate in the prison spoke to broadcaster Paddy O’Gorman on Paddy’s Podcast last year. She said the women prisoners did not feel safe even though the transgender inmates were separated from them and had different yard times and meal times too. She said the situation was unfair to the women prisoners and that some of the transgender prisoners shouted at the women from their cells. 

Concerns have also been expressed about the wellbeing of the transgender prisoners. An inspection at Limerick prison in April 2021 reported that the two transgender prisoners were living “an extremely solitary existence separated from the general population on E wing” and were locked in their cells for up to 23 hours a day. The situation seems far from ideal for everyone. 

The inspection team reported that the transgender inmates “raised concerns that when searches were being conducted a male officer was present in addition to a female officer” and the team was informed that on a small number of occasions the prison officers had referred to the transgender prisoners as “he/him”. 

Since the passing of the Gender Recognition Act 2015, Ireland’s system of gender self-identification allows people to legally change their gender without medicalisation or a diagnosis of gender dysphoria. Anyone over 18 years of age can change their legal gender by just filling out a form, having it witnessed by a person authorised to take statutory declarations, and then popping the application in the post to the Department of Social Protection with the required documents (generally just a birth certificate). 

The Irish Prison Service prominently flew the rainbow flag during Pride

Between 2015 and 2021, there were 882 Gender Recognition Certificates issued in the State. 445 of these were for males who legally changed their gender to female and 422 were for females who legally changed to male. 

Whilst a debate rages in Scotland and the UK more broadly about whether male-born transgender prisoners should be placed in male or female prisons, in Ireland there has never been a public debate. The issue has only rarely been covered in a small number of newspapers or on online outlets. 

The culture in Ireland when it comes to gender ideology is one of secrecy and silence. This is partly as a result of a Government stranglehold on the topic through its LGBTI+ National Inclusion Strategy. The strategy involves the introduction of gender ideology to all sectors of Irish society via LGBTI+ ‘training’. The Irish Prison Service is listed as a lead partner in one section of the strategy.

The Irish Prison Service Annual Report 2021 gives details of how, “in keeping with the National LGBTI+ Inclusion Strategy”, the Prison Service prominently flew the rainbow flag during Pride weekend from 26–28 June outside all prisons in Ireland. The report also states that an online presentation was given to prison staff by Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI), the main transgender advocacy group in Ireland. 

TENI has a representative on the LGBTI+ National Inclusion Strategy Committee, and it is a very influential organisation at Irish Government level despite some controversial stances adopted in recent times. Last year, TENI spoke out against a proposed ban on transgender male-born players in women’s rugby. Guidance developed by TENI in collaboration with IBEC, Ireland’s largest lobby and business representative group, advises that staff who are uncomfortable sharing toilets with trans colleagues should undergo training

The LGBTI+ Strategy also involves the participation of the government department responsible for communication as well as Ireland’s public service broadcaster RTÉ, and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. The Strategy outlines the plan “to support the positive portrayal and representation of LGBTI+ identities in broadcast media”. Coverage of the transgender prisoners in women’s prisons may be perceived as a negative portrayal and therefore as going against the Government-steered action plan. 

The Irish Prison Services confirmed by email this week that all prisoners in Ireland who are committed “are accommodated in accordance with their legal gender”. This means that transgender prisoners who identify as female and who have a Gender Recognition Certificate will, regardless of their crime or their crimes against women, be housed in women’s prisons. The silence around the issue acts to concretise policies currently in place. 

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