Justice Minister Helen McEntee has warned that the fall of the Kinahan organized crime group leaves room for other gangs to move into the space they occupied.
s McWntee pledged to create additional places in prisons and support the Prison Service in the fight against gang crime.
With 79 members of the Kinahan group behind bars, she said that the operations mounted against criminal groups have an impact on prisons and the prison officers who have to deal with them.
Speaking at the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) annual conference in Sligo yesterday, Ms McEntee said the number of prison officers had not increased for many years and she planned to address this problem in the next budget later this year.
“I think there is a concern, obviously, as senior members of the Kinahan organized crime group are thrust into the spotlight, and the potential of what this means for them, there is always room for that someone else moves into that space.
“I think that’s unfortunately what happens in these kinds of circumstances,” she said when asked about the influence senior members of the Kinahan gang have in prison.
She said effective prison management and the right ‘resources and structures’ were needed to deal with prominent gang members in Irish prisons, which represented a ‘significant body of work’.
“There are effective ways of dealing with prisoners, particularly when you have prisoners from two different gangs or organizations, and it’s important that the prison service is supported to do this,” she said.
She added that the Kinahan gang has brought untold misery to many communities and anyone considering doing so should realize that there are repercussions.
Prison overcrowding was mentioned at the conference as a growing problem, with Ms McEntee saying it is “not acceptable” for prisoners to sleep on the floor due to overcrowding in Irish prisons.
POA Deputy Secretary General Gabriel Keaveny said 10 per cent, or more than 30 inmates, of Cloverhill Prison now slept on mattresses.
“It is completely unsustainable. The entire training unit remains closed at Mountjoy.
“We have other cases in central Dochas and Cork Prison across the estate where there are overcrowding issues.
“It has to be dealt with. We need additional spaces as well as the reopening of the training unit,” he said.
POA Chairman Tony Power said overcrowding was leading to increased tension and incidents of violence.
“We need around 600 more places in the prisons. We have around 4200, we need around 4800 or 5000. Because the prisons are now unlocked again the levels of violence between prisoners and prisoners have increased and we had incidents last week in Mountjoy where some members of the staff were injured,” he said.
Ms McEntee said that before she became minister in 2019, a review of the capacity of the Irish Prison Service was carried out and some 140 new places were created in the system as a result.
Looking to the end of the year, she said 96 new places would be provided when the training unit at the Mountjoy prison campus in north Dublin was back in operation after refurbishment.
A new redevelopment of Limerick Prison, also due to open later this year, would bring into use 90 male and 40 female places.
Ms McEntee said she had recently met with the POA and the Prison Service and the two had raised with her the issue of overcrowding, as well as overstaffing in prisons.
The POA raised the issue of a continuing problem of false statements made by prisoners, leading to “unfair and unnecessary court appearances by prison officers”.
Mr Power said three years ago that one of its members was on the bench of a circuit court charged with assaulting a prisoner and making a false statement to gardaí.
“The CCTV clearly showed that the officer had done nothing wrong and the only false statement was that of the prisoner.
“This officer was trained to the letter of the law, it was a manual, taken straight from the Irish Prison Service’s Control and Restraint Manual, a manual which the judge said carried no weight in his court , but a textbook that is still in use today,” he added.
“Despite the fact that two independent expert witnesses were willing to testify that this officer’s actions that day were exemplary and that CCTV footage of the incident could be used as a training video, the officer and his family had to endure the stress. of an entire trial because the prison service refused to stand up and protect their staff member.
“This officer came to court and listened to his employer offer him no protection in court. The employer simply said the Irish Prison Service had no role to play. stood up and found the officer not guilty,” he said. Explain.
“All it takes is for a prisoner to file a Category A complaint and our members are investigated for doing their job.
“The Prison Officers Association will continue to support our members in these situations, but the day is fast approaching when we will have to advise our members when there are problems in our prisons to step back and just call the Gardai.
“It’s something we wouldn’t want to do, however, we have a duty to protect our members,” he added.