Former Minister points to 'seismic' problems in the prison service

Another TD says local management not being candid

Conor Ganly

Reporter:

Conor Ganly

Portlaoise Prison

Portlaoise Prison.

The Irish Prison Service is facing a grilling from TDs over what one former minister has been described 'seismic' issues at prisons in Portlaoise and other parts of the country.

Another TD claimed that the Director General of Irish prisons is not up to speed with what is going on or local prison managers are not being candid about questions TDs want to be answered. 

Correspondence from the Irish Prison Service was discussed on Thursday, February 21 by members of the Dáil's most high-powered committee which is chaired by the Laois TD Sean Fleming.

TDs raised their concerns at the Dáil Public Accounts Committee following a recent meeting on spending and other issues in the service which has come to light as a result of problems raised by staff.

Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry led calls for management to come before the committee to fully answer questions.

"We need a dedicated meeting on issues that have emerged. The document that has come back falls well short of the sort of response that we need...we need a full day on the Irish Prison Service and we should not bury it within the appropriation accounts of the Department overall," said Dep MacSharry.

As Chairman Deputy Fleming said prison management can be recalled but the first step to take is to letter outlining issues that are not adequately dealt with.

Dep MacSharry felt urgent action is required and an administrative 'merry-go-round' would delay getting answers.

"Unfortunately, what we know of the Prison Service so far is well outside the norm," he said.

Dep Alan Kelly of the Labour Party said the committee has a tight schedule but agreed with Dep MacSharry's appeal. 

"The issues relating to the Irish Prison Service are pretty seismic. We need a session to deal with those and as soon as possible," he said.

Dep MacSharry said he was conscious that the Comptroller and Auditor General might intend to start audits and the committee could assist in focusing one of those audits on the Irish Prison Service.

Deputy Fleming agreed that there were questions that have not been answered but, in fairness to prison management, procedures must be followed.

Dep Marc MacSharry said at least one specific aspect of the correspondence was 'not credible'.

"One of the matters that was clear at the previous session was that the witnesses were not in a position to answer and they said they would convey the information to the committee, in fairness to their good intentions.

"The letter states that local management was contacted and this is the answer, namely, that all vehicles are accounted for. Part of the potential issue is that with the best will in the world, the Secretary General (of the Department of Justice) is the Accounting Officer, while the head of the Prison Service in County Longford is not, perhaps, fully up to speed with what is going on and she is dependent on local management which may not be as candid as it should be in answers to certain questions," said Dep MacSharry.

Dep Fleming said a meeting will be held with the Prison Service but the committee has a duty to examine the correspondence received before that meeting.