Riot teams used more than once a day in Portlaoise prison

New figures for 2016 show 373 instances of Control and Restraint squads being deployed

Portlaoise prison saw the highest use of riot teams among Irish prisons in 2016. File photograph: Cyril Byrne

Portlaoise prison saw the highest use of riot teams among Irish prisons in 2016. File photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Prison authorities deployed control and restraint (C&R) teams in riot gear 373 times to deal with high risk prisoners at Ireland’s only maximum security prison at Portlaoise last year.

New Irish Prison Service (IPS) figures show C&R teams were deployed more than once every day on average at the prison that houses some of the country’s most notorious criminals.

Victim impact statements for the prison officers said there was fear experienced by their partners and spouses that the men are constantly at risk of assault.

C&R teams have been deployed regularly to deal with one prisoner, Leon Wright (28). In March of this year, a five-strong riot team accompanied Wright to a cleared Portlaoise District Court where he was jailed for six months for the assault of four prison officers, including three C&R team members, during an incident at the prison in February of last year.

Wright has attacked over two dozen guards while in jail and left many with very serious injuries, necessitating the use of C&R teams.

An IPS C&R team typically would be made up of five or six wearing riot gear including a helmet and shield.

In a written Dáil reply to Jonathan O’Brien TD, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan revealed that the deployment of C&R teams at Portlaoise is far greater than any other prison.

The figures show C&R teams were deployed 273 times at Mountjoy last year and 102 times at Cloverhill.

The next highest is Wheatfield at 62. The teams were used six times in the Midlands prison and on five occasions each in Castlerea and Cork.

C&R teams were not used in any other prison last year.

In his reply, Mr Flanagan said: “As part of a control and restraint team a staff member, with a video recording camera, records footage of the event. The majority of the incidents in which a control and restraint teams was deployed did not require the physical removal of the prisoner.”

President of the Prisoner Offices Association (POA), Stephen Delaney, said on Thursday that the Portlaoise figures underline the risks faced by staff at the prison.

Mr Delaney said that Portlaoise “is a particularly stressful environment to work in and this has been recognised with the payment of an Environmental Allowance to staff there”.

The payment of the “danger money” is in recognition of Portlaoise housing the country’s subversive Republican prisoners, which number 40 - down 32 per cent from 59 five years ago.

The allowance is worth €30.97 per week to each prison officer.

Last year, 178 prison officers at Portlaoise received almost €1 million in backpay from the IPS after winning a battle over the continued payment of the allowance.