Northern Ireland

Prisoner Ombudsman retires with no executive to appoint replacement

Prisoner Ombudsman Tom McGonigle is retiring
Prisoner Ombudsman Tom McGonigle is retiring Prisoner Ombudsman Tom McGonigle is retiring

NORTHERN IRELAND is to be left without a designated Prisoner Ombudsman when Tom McGonigle retires from the post next week.

Mr McGonigle has held the position since 2013.

While he may have been more low-key than the previous ombudsman, Pauline McCabe, he published several damning reports into deaths in custody during his tenure.

Last year he released a report that was highly critical of Maghaberry prison after investigating how vulnerable inmate Sean Lynch was able to inflict "extreme and shocking" self-harm over three days.

The 23-year-old blinded himself, with Mr McGonigle finding that two prison officers watched as he injured himself on more than 20 occasions in an "ordeal" that lasted for over an hour.

A public appointment competition to select a successor to Mr McGonigle was held earlier this year and suitable candidates identified.

The successful candidate will be announced following the appointment of a justice minister, but with no Stormont executive and talks to restore devolution yet to resume, it is not known when the new ombudsman will take up their role.

In the interim, the chief inspector of Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland, Brendan McGuigan, will oversee the work of the Prisoner Ombudsman's office.

Department of Justice permanent secretary Nick Perry expressed gratitude to Mr McGonigle for his service.

"His professionalism and leadership in office has, without doubt, helped ensure that prisoners and their visitors could have confidence that any concerns they may have had would be independently and thoroughly investigated," he said.

"I am grateful to Brendan McGuigan for undertaking oversight of the office until a new ombudsman is appointed."