Minister Flanagan officially opens Portlaoise Prison Staff Memorial Garden
- Garden remembers all who have served in Portlaoise Prison over the years
- Minister welcomes information on the gradual recommencement of prison visits
- Minister praises work of staff and prisoners in combating threat of COVID-19
23 June 2020
The Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan TD, has today officially opened the Portlaoise Prison Staff Memorial Garden in a ceremony also attended by the Director General of the Irish Prison Service, Ms Caron McCaffrey, and the Governor of Portlaoise Prison, Mr Ultan Moran.
The Memorial Garden recognises the service and contribution made by the staff of Portlaoise Prison over the years, and in particular in helping preserve the nation’s security during the Troubles. The garden includes a plinth and the original bell from the old Portlaoise Prison Church (now demolished). The garden also includes a rockery which includes stone from the former Governor’s Residence and another now demolished building from the prison. Construction of the Memorial Garden commenced in 2018 with the metal work and stone work completed by Wheatfield Prison.
Officially opening the garden, Minister Flanagan said:
“This Memorial Garden honours the Irish Prison Service staff who have served over the years in Portlaoise Prison and recognises the unique challenges they have faced, and in particular the part the Prison Service members played and the courage they showed during the most turbulent times of the Troubles, in conjunction with their colleagues from An Garda Síochána and Óglaigh na hÉireann.”
“The Irish Prison Service and Portlaoise Prison have always had a huge connect with the community of Co Laois and its surrounding counties and I believe it is very appropriate to recognise this by putting in place a symbol which recognises their contribution to the State. I would hope that this will give the community an opportunity to as they pass in memory of all that have served in Portlaoise Prison.”
The Minister has welcomed the announcement by the Irish Prison Service this afternoon of plans for a phased recommencement of physical family visits to prisons, commencing on Monday 20th July 2020.
“It is really important for prisoners and their families that these visits recommence, but only of course when it is safe to do so. I know that the Irish Prison Service has conducted a comprehensive risk assessment and identified the necessary measures to be put in place. This phased, gradual reopening will be kept under constant review, and staff will ensue appropriate social distancing is occurring in both waiting and visiting areas”
The Minister also took the opportunity to thank all Irish Prison Service staff and prisoners for their work to prevent the spread of COVID-19. To date, no prisoner has been infected with COVID-19 and the Irish Prison Service has been internationally recognised for its work in controlling the spread of the virus. The IPS has shared their experience with other countries through the submission of a paper to the World Health Organisation on its approach to the outbreak. ‘Establishing prison-led contact tracing to prevent outbreaks of COVID-19 in prisons in Ireland’ was published yesterday, 22 June, in the Journal of Public Health by Oxford University Press.
The Minister added,
“While a very different threat to those that have gone before, our prisons have faced another tremendous challenge in recent months in combatting COVID-19. I want to publicly recognise the outstanding collective efforts that have been made to date by Irish Prison Service staff, management, prisoners and Red Cross Volunteers during the pandemic and thank them for the great work they have done to ensure our prisons continue to operate smoothly. The international recognition of this work is greatly deserved and it is vitally important these efforts should continue in order to maintain this remarkable safety record.”
Notes to editors:
Irish Prison Service and the Troubles
Portlaoise Prison is unique in that it is the only maximum security prison in the State. Prisoners sentenced in the Special Criminal Court are committed to Portlaoise Prison. Since 1973, all subversive or IRA prisoners have been accommodated in Portlaoise following their transfer from the Curragh Prison.
This followed the escape of three high profile IRA prisoners, J.B. O’Hagan, Seamus Twomey and Kevin Mallon, who had spectacularly escaped from Mountjoy by helicopter on 31 October 1973. The move to Portlaoise was made as a measure to contain IRA activity and segregate IRA members from other prisoners.
Other significant incidents that occurred during this period include:
- The escape of 19 prisoners on 18th August 1974 when a number of prisoners overpowered the staff and took their uniforms and made their escape disguised as prison officers. The group used explosives to blow open the gates.
- In December 1974, Republican prisoners took over the E wing and took 26 prison officers hostage.
- In 1983, then Chief Officer of Portlaoise Brian Stack was shot outside the National Boxing Arena in Dublin and subsequently died of his injuries 18 months later. In 2013 the IRA finally admitted to the killing.
- In November 1985, an IRA mass breakout failed when a bomb, which had been assembled within the prison itself, failed to detonate at the prison gates. In the incident then CO Patrick Powell (RIP) faced down an armed prisoner who aimed a gun at his head and fired in an attempt to murder him. Thankfully the gun failed to discharge and the escape attempt failed.
Over the last five years in particular, the Irish Prison Service has taken a number of steps to recognise historic acts of bravery and outstanding heroism by presenting a number of bravery awards, including posthumous, to Chief Officer Brian Stack (2013), Governor Paddy Powell (2016), and Assistant Chief Officer Paddy Dunne. In September 2017 Minister Flanagan presented the Distinguished Service Medal to Assistant Chief Officer Tony Phelan, Assistant Chief Officer Tom Dunne and Officer J.B. Curtain, to recognise their collective act of bravery in preventing the escape of an IRA prisoner from the High Court in 1988.
Irish Prison Service response to COVID-19
In line with advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team and prison specific guidance issued by the World Health Organisation, the Irish Prison Service has successfully implemented a number of measures across the prisons estate, as a result of which there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among the prison population to date.
The IPS also moved quickly to introduce a number of other new initiatives to ensure psychological wellbeing and ongoing family support such as video visits, use of tele-psychology services and electronic money transfers.
‘Establishing prison-led contact tracing to prevent outbreaks of COVID-19 in prisons in Ireland’, a paper by Mattea Clarke, John Devlin, Emmett Conroy, Enda Kelly and Sunita Sturup-Toft, was published in the Journal of Public Health by Oxford University Press on Monday, 22 June 2020. Access to the paper is available for free at https://academic.oup.com/jpubhealth/advance-article/doi/10.1093/pubmed/fdaa092/5860596