The bravery of three Laois prison officers was honoured last week in Portlaoise.
Distinguished Service Medals were awarded by the Irish Prison Service, at the IPS College Portlaoise, to Anthony Phelan, JB Curtin and Thomas Dunne to recognise their actions on 20th July 1988.
The incident occurred in the Four Courts on the 20th July 1988. While officers Phelan, Curtin and Dunne were escorting a prisoner to the Four Courts they were threatened by the prisoner who had in his possession a hand gun.
The three brave officers reacted instinctively, disarmed the prisoner, and ensured the safety of all present in the Four Courts that day.
The event was attended by the men's families, Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan, Michael Donnellan, Director General, Assistant Governor Reilly, colleagues, invited guests.
Minister Flanagan said he was honoured to be present at the ceremony. He commended the recipients for putting their lives on the line.
“There is no doubt that their actions on that evening were courageous and prevented possible serious injury and even death to those who attended the Four Courts on that day,” he said.
The Laois TD said prison staff are widely respected by the Irish people and deservedly so.
“I too have the greatest of respect for prison staff and management. All prison staff perform a difficult job on behalf of the State and they perform it well, coping with the unique challenges that the job entails.
“I think it is fair to say that prison staff working in Portlaoise have in the past and most especially during the “troubles” experienced a unique set of challenges. Portlaoise Prison staff have a proud record of managing challenging prisoners especially the republican prisoners during the 1970s and 1980s.
“Portlaoise Prison has seen many examples down through the years where the staff where challenged and faced with extreme adversity but stood firm and did their duty.
“I am sure many of you who worked in Portlaoise have your own stories of incidents or events within the prison which were managed professionally by you and your colleagues and you did your duty often in the face of adversity and also at some cost to you both emotionally and physically,” he told the gathering
Minister Flanagan listed a number of other incidents where lives were put on the line.
- IRA Portlaoise Prison escape in August 1974.
- A republican takeover of E-Wing in the same year.
- An IRA escape with a dumper truck on St Patrick’s night 1975.
- The IRA killing of Chief Officer Brian Stack in 1983
- A mass IRA breakout from Portlaoise Prison that failed in 1985.
“I have no doubt that many staff in Portlaoise during these incidents, and others which may not have attracted attention beyond the walls of the prison, performed acts of bravery and heroism which may not have received the recognition that they deserved,” said Minister Flanagan.
He said he was delighted that the Prison Service has acknowledged some of these events in recent years including last week's event.
“In honoring the staff I am also mindful of the impact that their service may have had on their families. I would also like to acknowledge the families of our prison staff who also would have been affected by the events of this period in Irish history,” he said.
Minister Flangan said the staff of Portlaoise Prison and all staff of the Irish Prison Service face a challenging but rewarding job. He said these challenges are met by management and staff by working closely with the Gardaí and the Defence Forces.