The Dail has heard the cost of the army guarding republican prisoners is over €200,000 annually per inmate in Portlaoise Prison.
Minister for Defence Simon Coveney said he believes the army presence should be phased out of Portlaoise Prison.
Deputy Eamon O’Cuiv raised the matter in the Dail this week while discussing the report of the Commision on the Defence Forces. He said: “I understand it is recommended to do away with in the commission report is the need for a military presence at the E wing of Portlaoise Prison.”
“That is costing €2.74 million. There are 12 prisoners there. The vast majority of them are due out within two years; in fact, some are due out before the end of this summer. They are already getting temporary releases. It seems an amazing cost, €200,000 a pop, to have that presence,” Deputy O’Cuiv remarked.
“These are by no means the prisoners who cause the greatest threat to the State at this time. Will this matter be looked at seriously? It seems to me to be unnecessary now, whatever justification there was for it in the past,” he added.
Deputy Bernard Durkan asked when decisions on army operations assisting civilian authorities would be made: “Will the conclusions be announced and endorsed by the Government by the end of this Dáil session - in other words, before the summer recess?”
Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney said: "Yes" is the straight answer to that question. I hope that that will happen well in advance of our breaking up in a few weeks' time.”
He said “I do not believe that it is either justifiable or necessary for the Defence Forces to have the presence they have in Portlaoise Prison indefinitely. My view is that the Defence Forces should be phased out of Portlaoise Prison but, of course, we have to work with the Department of Justice and the Prison Service to do that efficiently.”
Minister Coveney said: “If we are trying to narrow the scope of what we are asking the Defence Forces to do, that is one area where they have done a fantastic job, but I think the Prison Service should be able to replicate that work without having Defence Forces personnel in Portlaoise Prison. That takes up a lot of resourcing and is quite expensive, and I think the Defence Forces could be used elsewhere more effectively in their core role.”
“That is a recommendation in the report. I strongly agree with it. I do not think it will happen overnight because these things need to be managed, but I certainly intend to pursue it in a reasonable timeline,” Minister Coveney said.
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