20th Anniversary of the Listener Scheme - October 13th, 2022

On Wednesday, 12th October 2022 the Irish Prison Service and Samaritans celebrated the 20th Anniversary of the Listener programme in prisons at an event held in Midlands Prison Portlaoise.

The Listener scheme is a peer support programme which sees prisoners trained to give emotional support to other prisoners. It is delivered by Samaritans volunteers and supported by the Irish Prison Service.

The Irish Prison Service works in cooperation with Samaritans who provide confidential emotional support to those people who are experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those, which may lead to suicide, through listening to them non-judgementally and in confidence. Samaritans work to support prisoners through peer support Listener Schemes, face-to-face support by volunteers from Samaritans branches, and access to Samaritans service by telephone.

Speaking at the event, Minister of State, Mr Niall Collins TD, who was representing the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee TD, acknowledged the importance of the Samaritans’ Listeners Scheme across the prison estate and the contribution of the prison Listeners saying:

Great credit is due to the Samaritans organisation, its branches and volunteers, and  to the Irish Prison Service and the individual Listeners, who have driven such tremendous growth in the Listener Service over the last decade.

The operation of a Listeners’ Scheme is primarily aimed at providing emotional support for vulnerable prisoners, it is also an important vehicle for assisting in the development of skills, knowledge and self-awareness for those participating”.

The Minister noted the importance of Samaritans and the Listeners for the prison population especially over the past 3 years noting that there had been a 600% increase to the Samaritans helpline since 2019.

Samaritans volunteers have been visiting prisons across Ireland on a weekly basis to support prisoners since the early 1990s and in 2002 the first Listener scheme began in Cloverhill prison.

The Listener scheme is now operational in every prison in Ireland, with 15 Listener schemes in 12 prisons supported by over 80 volunteers from Samaritans branches. There are currently just over 100 prisoner in the prison system trained as Listeners, providing 24-hour support.

The 20th anniversary was celebrated during Mental Health Awareness Month, during the even 22 trained Listeners were awarded certificates by Minister Collins

Samaritans volunteer Cindy O’Shea, Regional Prison Support Officer for Samaritans Ireland, said the scheme is a vital safety net for prisoners at risk,Listeners provide the time and space that is necessary for those prisoners to express their feelings, especially those feelings that might lead to suicide. Prisoners can talk to a Listener without fear of criticism or judgement”. 


(L- R) Mark Kennedy, Jonathon Neville, Cindy O’Shea Samaritans Ireland, Minister of State Niall Collins, Director General Caron McCaffrey, Governor Dave Conroy and Director of Care & Rehabilitation Fergal Black Irish Prison Service


(L- R) Director of Care & Rehabilitation Fergal Black Irish Prison Service, Cindy O’Shea Samaritans, Minister of State Niall Collins, Director General Caron McCaffrey, Governor Dave Conroy Irish Prison Service


Drive Time on RTE Radio  https://www.rte.ie/radio/radio1/clips/22157524/

The Hard Shoulder on Newstalk   https://www.newstalk.com/podcasts/highlights-from-the-hard-shoulder/samaritans-celebrates-20th-anniversary-of-listener-scheme-in-irish-prisons

Irish Times https://www.irishtimes.com/ireland/2022/10/12/if-we-can-get-people-talking-at-an-early-stage-it-prevents-it-escalating/