Portlaoise Prison house gang leaders and paramilitary prisoners.
The official number of gangs locked up in Portlaoise and other prisons is at least three times less than has been claimed by prison officers.
At the Prison Officers Association conference in Kilkenny this week it was claimed that there are 30 gangs represented in Mountjoy jail alone. This, however, is three times less than what the Irish Prison Service claims.
Jim Mitchell, Deputy General Secretary said the proliferation and power of gangs within prisons is a matter of major concern to prison officers.
“What we have now operating, within Mountjoy particularly, are gangs that have an international profile and significant funds to run their operations like a business. They have a hierarchy within the prison estate and have a number of ‘contractors’ that they hire ‘work ‘out to. In total there are nearly 30 factions within Mountjoy that cannot mix for a variety of reasons,” he said.
However, this figure is a lot less than what prison management has reported to the Department of Justice.
In a Dáil reply to Bernard Durkan TD, Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan gave the official data on Wednesday, April 17.
"I am advised by my officials in the Irish Prison Service that arising from a report compiled by them, there are currently 10 criminal groupings involving approximately 102 prisoners within the prison population excluding the subversive groupings in Portlaoise Prison and that the situation is subject to continuous monitoring and assessment.
"Membership or allegiance of these criminal groups fluctuates on a continuous basis with some persons breaking links and others becoming affiliated on a daily basis. It is also the case that prisoners will not always declare their affiliation to certain groupings and it is therefore not possible to provide definitive numbers in relation to the number of known members of criminal groupings currently in custody," he said.
The Minister admitted that the gang cause problems.
"The emergence in recent years of criminal groupings has had significant implications for the management of Irish Prisons. Rivalries and feuds which develop on the outside continue inside the prison. Prison management must ensure that the various factions are kept apart, and as far as possible, that members of criminal groups do not have influence over other inmates in the prisons or criminal activities outside," he said.
Mr Flanagan said the Irish Prison Service is committed to preventing identified members of criminal groups from conducting criminal activities while in custody and also to prevent them exerting inappropriate influence over other persons.
He said the security initiatives undertaken by the Operational Support Group have made it more difficult for prisoners to engage in illegal activities while in prison.
"These initiatives include the installation of airport-style security including scanners and X-ray machines. The core function of the Operational Support Group includes the gathering and collating of intelligence information on members of criminal groups in custody, carrying out intelligence-led searches and preventing the flow of contraband, including mobile phones, into the prisons.
"In addition, there is regular contact between the Irish Prison Service and An Garda Síochána to discuss security issues including the operation of criminal groupings," he said.