Thursday, 25 May 1972
Dáil Eireann Debate
Dr. O'Connell: asked the Minister for Justice if he would now establish an independent committee to examine all aspects of overcrowding and other unsatisfactory conditions in Mountjoy Prison; and, if not, why.
Mr. Enright: asked the Minister for Justice what proposals he had to prevent overcrowding in Irish prisons; if he would state (a) the number of prisoners at present in each prison in Ireland and (b) the recommended capacity of each prison to ensure reasonable comfort and safety for the prisoners.
Since these questions were tabled, there has been a debate in the House on the Prisons Bill and in that debate I have given the House such of the information sought as is available or as could be obtained in the interval since the putting down of the questions.
The only point I can usefully add is that, while a full internal investigation is being carried out as a matter of course, a formal inquiry is not proposed.The circumstances in which it was possible for a prison officer to be overpowered arose, inevitably, from the policy, for which I accept responsibility, of not allowing considerations of security to predominate to the point where the general body of prisoners could not be treated in a reasonably humanitarian way.
Mr. Cooney: Does the Minister not agree that his policy was either misinterpreted or applied to an excessive extent in so far as it was possible for this serious riot to ensue? Is there not something wrong with his policy if he cannot hold the balance between security  and rehabilitation without a riot resulting or security being so grievously interfered with?
Mr. O'Malley: That balance has been successfully maintained for several years up to last week. I think it is fair to say that it would have continued to be maintained were it not for the determined action of a particular group of prisoners who are not typical of those who are usually in our prisons.
Mr. O'Malley: There are. I cannot say in any detail but there is one factor that will arise out of it, that any prisoner that the Governor or the visiting committee are satisfied had any part in this affair is liable, of course, to lose remission. That may well have a bearing on his release.
Dr. O'Connell: In view of the fact that these circumstances are not likely to arise again, would the Minister not ask that a review of the situation should take place as soon as possible so that those who are awaiting working parole or early discharge would not be adversely affected by this?
Mr. O'Malley: If discipline is to be maintained in the prison, I fear discipline will have to be enforced. Of course this does not affect every prisoner.Any prisoner that the Governor is satisfied was involved in this matter must expect to be disciplined in this way.
Mr. L'Estrange: Is it not true that the Army were outside Mountjoy at 10 o'clock and that most of the damage  in the prison was done between 10 and 2 a.m.? In view of the fact that we have had the “softly, softly” policy after the Ballyshannon riot, the Monaghan riot, the burning of the British Embassy and now at Mountjoy, does the Minister not think that the Army should have been brought in at 10 o'clock to prevent this damage? Will he not admit that his “softly, softly” policy with those particular people is a failure and that violence is on the increase in this country?
Mr. O'Malley: I shall explain the circumstances under which the Army were there and under which they acted. From 10 o'clock onwards I was personally in touch with the situation. The Army arrived at approximately 10 o'clock. At that time the riot had been taking place for slightly over two hours. The vast majority of the total damage had been caused at that time and only a small proportion of it was caused subsequent to 10 o'clock. At 10 o'clock, when I was fully apprised of the situation, I became aware that at least one prison officer and, as was thought at the time, probably three more were being held as hostages by men whom I knew to be very violent and to be capable of considerable violence. The Army were there. I was faced with the situation that if I there and then sought to put an end to the riot I might well have caused the loss of the lives of the prison officers who were held hostage and possibly of some prisoners, either those involved in the riot or those not involved. For that reason, I moved very slowly on that night and,  by degrees, I introduced the Army into the inner part of the prison and I allowed the personnel of the Army and their equipment to be seen by those involved in the riot and I then delivered an ultimatum to them.
Mr. O'Malley: I did this slowly in order to try to prevent loss of life and I am glad to say that the riot was put down and, in fact, not alone was there no loss of life but no really serious injury was incurred.
Mr. Desmond: May I ask the Minister what would have happened if the Minister had been in Limerick, his constituency, that evening? Who would have been in charge? Would it have been the Garda Commissioner? Would it have been the Army officer in charge? Does he not consider it rather unusual that the Minister would arrive at the scene of a riot and assume direct control?
Mr. L'Estrange: I am quite satisfied with the reply but I would ask the Minister can he do anything about one institution of State trying to bring down other institutions of State? By that I refer to television which announced at 9.30 that people from all over the country were gathering outside Mountjoy and encouraged those people? Is the Minister aware that people left Monaghan, Longford and other counties when they heard this announcement on RTE? Will he not admit that it is time that the anarchists and the Provisionals in Telefís Éireann were silenced before they bring down or help to bring down all the institutions of this State?
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