Permitted use of mobile phones by prison governors and the use of taxpayers money to pay for parties outside prisons was raised with senior Department of Justice and Prison Service officials last week.
Politicians used the Irish Prison Service Appropriation Accounts for 2017 to question officials at the Dáil Public Accounts Committee, chaired by Laois TD Sean Fleming.
Deputy Marc McSharry challenged the officials on whether a prison governor has the power under law to allow a prisoner have a phone as part of an investigation.
“Let us say a governor uses his or her discretion to gather intelligence and gives a mobile phone to lifer prisoner No. 56, for example, who gathers information that is fed in and used as intelligence.
“If a conscientious prison officer then inspects that prisoner's cell, finds the mobile phone and hands it over, what happens to that prison officer? He or she is in the governor's bad books, even though he or she acted in line with the legislation that Ms (Caron) McCaffrey (Director General) quoted and the power vested in the Prison Service, has done his or her job and has seized the contraband,” he said.
During exchanges, the Director-General said: “There is legislative discretion for the governor to allow a mobile phone.”
However, she insisted, “If this contraband were in our prisons, I can absolutely guarantee that the governor would want it found. It could be a mobile phone that has been used to arrange drugs to be delivered to the prison or it might be a weapon. Every governor is keenly dedicated to finding contraband within the system.”
Meanwhile, Deputy Alan Kelly wanted clarity on catering outside jails.
He asked: “Is there a loss to the Exchequer by actions or behaviour being tolerated in prisons? For example, are there cases in the Prison Service where catering has been provided for events outside of prisons? Is that normal? Who pays for this?”
“I am talking about 21st and 80th birthday parties. Being honest, we need to say it is happening and deal with it as a loss to the Exchequer or else debunk the myths. It is either happening or it is not.
“For example, equipment and foodstuffs belonging to a prison being taken outside. The prison’s rice is eaten outside the prison,” he said.
Deputy MacSharry interjected.
“To be helpful, we are referring to events being held in X rugby club or Y tennis club”.
He added: “ Sometimes, it might be an inter-prison event such as a sporting occasion. However, we are referring specifically to communion, 21st and 50th birthdays and other celebrations. What about the food safety aspect of this? If it is off-site and there is a case of food poisoning, will the rugby club or the Prison Service be sued?”
The issue was raised by the TDs in the context of issues that have come to the fore due to protected disclosures made by a prison officer.