John Lonergan says he is not to blame for Douch events
Former Mountjoy governor warns conditions in women’s prison could result in another ‘tragedy’
Former governor of Mountjoy Prison John Lonergan: “The women’s prison is grossly overcrowded. The reason for that is there’s not adequate accommodation for women. If there’s a tragedy there tomorrow morning, the very same issues would arise [as identified in the Douch report].” Photograph: Alan Betson
Former Mountjoy Prison governor John Lonergan has said he accepts responsibility for the day-to-day running of the jail in 2006 when Gary Douch was killed, but he will not accept he was to blame for the shortcomings that significantly contributed to the murder. He also warned that current conditions in the women’s prison on the Mountjoy campus could result in another “tragedy”.
“Prisoners are being doubled up and [there are] up to five in a room in rooms never intended to sleep prisoners and the prison visiting committee report said that only last week,” he said.
“The women’s prison is grossly overcrowded. The reason for that is there’s not adequate accommodation for women. If there’s a tragedy there tomorrow morning, the very same issues would arise [as identified in the Douch report].”
The Irish Prison Service accepted overcrowding was an issue, but said it was in the middle of major holistic reforms to address the imprisonment of women.
Lonergan said he was “amazed” that a commission of investigation report published this week into the August 2006 killing of Douch made no mention of culpability on the part of successive governments and ministers for justice.
They had introduced policies that drove the prison population up but neglected to provide sufficient accommodation to house them. There was, however, hands-on interference in other aspects of the prison system aimed at electorally benefiting ministers.
“I remember several times coming up to general elections that a minister would give instruction that the percentage of prisoners on temporary release should be reduced dramatically,” he said.
“That meant that extra prisoners were kept in custody and overcrowding was exacerbated. I recall it regularly.
“We had a situation where prisoners from certain constituencies wouldn’t be let out because they were from the constituencies of ministers. That’s absolutely the truth.”
He noted the numbers in custody at the time of the Douch killing increased to more than 5,000 “even though there was room for probably no more than 3,000”.
The report of the commission of investigation by Gráinne McMorrow SC published on Thursday concluded that the mentally ill prisoner who killed Douch, Stephen Egan, should not have been discharged from the Central Mental Hospital. He should not have been transferred from Cloverhill to Mountjoy either.
It found Egan was not medically assessed when transferred to Mountjoy two days before the killing, did not have access to his medication and that when his psychosis exhibited, it went unrecognised by staff.
Staff locked him in a basement room to sleep with six other prisoners although it had not been designed to be used as sleeping quarters. In the early hours of August 1st, 2006, he fatally attacked Douch.
When asked who he believed was to blame for the chaotic system in which the Douch killing occurred Lonergan said: “Successive governments and successive ministers for justice were well aware of the chaos in Mountjoy. It was highlighted by the Committee on the Prevention of Torture and the inspectors of prisons, prison chaplains, the media.”
He said he had written to the then director general of the Irish Prison Service Brian Purcell four weeks before the murder warning him of dangerous conditions in the basement area where the murder occurred.
The commission of investigation said as governor of the jail, Lonergan must accept some responsibility.
“I was the governor of Mountjoy for a long period and in the context of being the governor I have to take responsibility for the reality of the day-to-day management of Mountjoy,” said Lonergan, who has apologised to the dead man’s family.
“But what I can’t and won’t take responsibility for was the absolute impossible situation that all of us, from the governor down [were placed in].
“I’m amazed that somebody could say overcrowding was the main contributing factor and then not lay any responsibility at government for their failure to provide the resources.
“What’s totally lost is that a prison governor has no power around resources, no power over the numbers coming into the prison and they have no power to get rid of them.
“There was no medical supervision in Mountjoy, there was no pharmacy service, there was no [doctor’s] surgery in Mountjoy at the time, there was no computerisation of medical files. So the whole place was chaotic and it was chaotic because the resources weren’t in place.”
He said at the time Mountjoy was obliged to take in all prisoners sentenced by the courts in Dublin, Leinster, Cavan and Monaghan. It meant it was taking in “prisoners from half the country” and becoming overcrowded because that burden was not shared by other jails.
Those practices have since been reformed, with committals spread across all jails.