Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Mountjoy Prison Disturbances.

Thursday, 25 May 1972

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 261 No. 3

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22.

Dr. O'Connell: Information on John F. O'Connell  Zoom on John F. O'Connell  asked the Minister for Justice if he would make a full statement with regard to the riot in Mountjoy Prison last week.

23.

Dr. O'Connell: Information on John F. O'Connell  Zoom on John F. O'Connell  asked the Minister for Justice if he would order an immediate inquiry into the circumstances which resulted in a major disturbance in Mountjoy Prison last week.

24.

Mr. Cooney: Information on Patrick Mark Cooney  Zoom on Patrick Mark Cooney  asked the Minister for Justice if he would hold an inquiry into the events in Mountjoy Prison last week.

25.

Mr. Enright: Information on Tom Enright  Zoom on Tom Enright  asked the Minister for Justice if he would give a detailed account of the recent riots in Mountjoy prison; and the explanation for them.

26.

Dr. O'Connell: Information on John F. O'Connell  Zoom on John F. O'Connell  asked the Minister for Justice the cost of damage done to buildings and equipment in Mountjoy Prison last week.

27.

Dr. O'Connell: Information on John F. O'Connell  Zoom on John F. O'Connell  asked the Minister for Justice whether riot-control gas was used at any time during the major disturbance in Mountjoy Prison last week; and who authorised its use.

[500]28.

Dr. O'Connell: Information on John F. O'Connell  Zoom on John F. O'Connell  asked the Minister for Justice if he was satisfied that the security of Mountjoy Prison had in no way been impaired following the major disturbance last week.

29.

Dr. O'Connell: Information on John F. O'Connell  Zoom on John F. 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.

30.

Mr. Enright: Information on Tom Enright  Zoom on Tom 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.

Mr. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  With your permission, a Cheann Comhairle, I propose to take Questions Nos. 22 to 30 together.

All these questions were tabled, I think it is fair to assume, as a result of the disturbances in Mountjoy last week.

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: Information on Patrick Mark Cooney  Zoom on Patrick Mark 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 [501] and rehabilitation without a riot resulting or security being so grievously interfered with?

Mr. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. 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.

Dr. O'Connell: Information on John F. O'Connell  Zoom on John F. O'Connell  Can the Minister give an assurance that the arrangements for working parole rehabilitation will not be upset by this?

Mr. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  Whatever about working parole, the whole rehabilitation structure in that prison has been completely upset.

Dr. O'Connell: Information on John F. O'Connell  Zoom on John F. O'Connell  What about those prisoners who were awaiting discharge on working parole? How will they be affected? There are a few——

Mr. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. 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: Information on John F. O'Connell  Zoom on John F. 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: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. 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: Information on Gerald L'Estrange  Zoom on Gerald L'Estrange  Is it not true that the Army were outside Mountjoy at 10 o'clock and that most of the damage [502] 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: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  The Deputy's terminology is reminiscent of criticism made in another part of the country——

Mr. L'Estrange: Information on Gerald L'Estrange  Zoom on Gerald L'Estrange  I did not see it, if it was made. Where was it made?

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  We have had two days of this topic; perhaps we could proceed with Questions.

Mr. Cooney: Information on Patrick Mark Cooney  Zoom on Patrick Mark Cooney  I think the Minister should be allowed to answer.

Mr. L'Estrange: Information on Gerald L'Estrange  Zoom on Gerald L'Estrange  I do not agree with the Army standing by for four hours while people are wrecking a place.

Mr. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. 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, [503] 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.

Dr. O'Connell: Information on John F. O'Connell  Zoom on John F. O'Connell  You were like a general.

Mr. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. 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.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Cormac Breslin  Zoom on Cormac Breslin  Question No. 31.

Mr. L'Estrange: Information on Gerald L'Estrange  Zoom on Gerald L'Estrange  Further arising——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Cormac Breslin  Zoom on Cormac Breslin  I feel that this matter has been sufficiently discussed.There are many Questions that have not been reached.

Mr. L'Estrange: Information on Gerald L'Estrange  Zoom on Gerald L'Estrange  I only want to ask the Minister one question.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Cormac Breslin  Zoom on Cormac Breslin  Should we spend the whole day discussing this Question?

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry 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?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Cormac Breslin  Zoom on Cormac Breslin  That is a separate question.

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  Does he consider that to be within the terms of the functions of a Minister of State?

Mr. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  I was not there— I was not within three miles of it in fact—until after the whole thing.

Mr. Tully: Information on James Tully  Zoom on James Tully  Does it really matter?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Cormac Breslin  Zoom on Cormac Breslin  No, it does not. Question No. 31.

[504]Mr. L'Estrange: Information on Gerald L'Estrange  Zoom on Gerald L'Estrange  I want to ask another question.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Cormac Breslin  Zoom on Cormac Breslin  I am calling Question No. 31. There has been no lack of discussion on this matter.

Mr. L'Estrange: Information on Gerald L'Estrange  Zoom on Gerald 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?

Mr. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  My views on the people concerned I think are well known.

Mr. Cooney: Information on Patrick Mark Cooney  Zoom on Patrick Mark Cooney  Could I ask the Minister will he make the result of the inquiry known?

Mr. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  It is an internal one and it is not normal to do so. If there is any specific aspect of it about which the Deputy wanted to inquire I am sure I will be able to give him the information.


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