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06 Jul 2022

Decision due on future role of army at prisons

Jail within a jail will not tackle gang culture in prisons say officers

Portlaoise Prison

A decision to scale back or stop some army operations in support of gardai and at prisons such as Portlaoise will be taken shortly.

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney has revealed he is going to make a decision following interdepartmental consultation before the Dail’s summer recess. 

“Defence Forces personnel acting in an armed Aid to the Civil Power(ATCP) role, deploy troops on the direction of the Government, in order to assist the Prison Service and An Garda Síochána. They provide 24/7, 365 days a year, security at Portlaoise Prison and for security reasons it would not be appropriate to disclose the details regarding the number of personnel assigned to each deployment,” Minister Coveney explained in response to a Parliamentary Question by Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín.

Deputy Tóibín had asked the Minister to outline the role played by the Defence Forces in guarding prisoners, how much they are paid and how many hours are spent on the task. 

Minister Coveney said: “With regards to the number of prisoners in Portlaoise Prison, this is a matter for the Irish Prison Service and the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice has advised that prison officers pay is a matter of public record and that allowances are also paid for Additional Hours (AH) and for working anti-social hours and times such as night shifts, Saturdays, Sundays and Public Holiday shifts.”

Minister Coveney said: “The Commission on the Defence Forces, which was published on the 9 February 2022, included a recommendation “That an immediate focus be given to standing down a number of current Defence Forces’ ATCP taskings which no longer seem justified in the current security situation”. 

“These recommendations are currently under consideration by my Department along with in-depth discussion and inter-departmental consultation. The intent is that following relevant consultation, and before the summer recess, I will revert to Government with a proposed response to the Commission's recommendations and a high-level action plan,” he revealed. The Dail’s summer recess traditionally begins in July. 

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However, the Defence Forces presence at Portlaoise Prison looks set to continue as the tender for the redevelopment of the Laois Offaly Garda Headquarters in Portlaoise includes provision for a new army facilities at the prison. 

Minister of State Sean Fleming told a recent meeting of Laois Joint Policing Committee that: “The army are based in the property beside the garda station and I think a byproduct of this(tender) will be that that army surveillance unit and soldiers that come from the Curragh for their duty up there on a 24/7 basis will now have a base up at the prison which will probably be better, closer to the prison and free up space here.” 

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