Summer riots feared in Portlaoise prison campus

Lynda Kiernan

Reporter:

Lynda Kiernan

The Midlands Prison

The MIdlands Prison

Staff in the Midlands Prison fear for their safety as they predict riots over cutbacks to yard exercise time for prisoners.

Prison Officers from Portlaoise prison had to be sent in wearing riot gear to the Midlands Prison last Friday evening June 7, to end a dirty protest by 50 prisoners who did not want to return to their cells early.

However, they were given no batons to defend themselves if the protest had turned violent.

President of the Prison Officer Association Tony Power said they fear the situation will escalate with other prisoners joining in.
“As the weather improves prisoners don't want to be behind doors. We are seeking urgent engagement to find out how the Prison Service intends to deal with such a breakdown of law and order in the country's largest prison,” he said.

Last Wednesday, June 5 a new regime was started in the prison by the Irish Prison Service. It returns prisoners to their cells earlier, to cope with reduced prison staff while keeping staff safe.

The new regime prioritises prison officers to guard prisoners undergoing training and education, but many must also leave to cover prison escorts to places like courts, up to 25 on any given day says Mr Power.

The Irish Prison Service confirms an incident happening last Friday in what is the biggest Irish prison with about 870 men.
“Approx 50 prisoners protested in the exercise yard and the matter was resolved without any damage or injuries. The Director General has commended all staff involved,” the service has stated.

However Mr Power, who works in Midlands Prison, outlined a more serious incident.  He said that an initial protest happened on Wednesday, the first day of the new regime.
Fifty inmates refused to leave the exercise yard at 7pm, ending their protest at 7.30 he said.

“On the Friday evening 50 protested again, and prior to it they smeared their excrement on door handles. The prison sent in staff in riot gear. When the prisoners saw them, it ended peacefully,” he said.

Mr Power said they fear a worsening situation.
“There is the fear that this will escalate. These were two incidents confined to the D division, but we have six divisions in Midlands Prison. The new regime management plan incorporates the whole prison so it will escalate. Our concern is, will we have enough staff,” he said.

He is also concerned that the staff from Portlaoise Prison who were sent in to quell the potential riot were not given weapons.
“Staff were suited up and sent in but the person in charge made the decision not to issue them with batons,” he said.

The POA president is calling on Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan to “look at the way situations are handled” and also to “step up recruitment”.
“The Minister has been very supportive of us, recognising the difficulties and dangers of our job. We need him to address the issue of staffing levels, and fill work training vacancies,” he said.

In  response, Minister Flanagan says that the safety of prison staff is his priority.
“The safety of prison staff is a key priority for me and I work closely with the management of the Irish Prison Service to ensure a safe environment for all in our prisons,” he said.