Kinahan cartel sanctions likely to fuel gang tensions in prisons, say prison officers

Kinahan and Hutch groups the dominant and ‘controlling’ gangs in Irish prison system

The imposition of international sanctions on the leadership of the Kinahan cartel is likely to fuel gang-related tensions inside the Republic’s prisons where a large number of their associates and rivals are serving sentences, the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) has said.

A major operation to segregate members of the rival gangs from each other has continued in recent years in the prison system. It has become more complex as the number of Kinahan-aligned prisoners has increased because so many convictions have been secured against them.

In recent weeks US law enforcement, followed by the authorities in the United Arab Emirates, have imposed financial sanctions on the Dubai-based Kinahans. The Americans have also offered rewards of up to $5 million (€4.7m) each for any information that leads to the convictions of cartel founder Christy Kinahan snr or his sons, Daniel and Christopher jnr, who manage the cartel day to day.

Prison officers are now concerned the sanctions, which have put significant pressure on the Kinahans, will embolden some of their associates currently imprisoned in Ireland.


Security sources believe some of those men are hoping to take on more senior roles in the cartel on their release, making them more dangerous during the remainder of their sentences.

POA deputy general secretary Jim Mitchell said the Kinahan and Hutch groups were the dominant and "controlling" gangs in the Irish prison system. He added some of the larger consignments of drugs that had been found coming into jails in recent years had been linked to members of the two gangs.

“With the Kinahan [gang], we have to wait and see how this plays out; what the influence of the international [sanctions] is going to be behind bars. There’s going to be jockeying for position,” Mr Mitchell said, speaking in advance of his association’s annual delegate conference which begins in Sligo on Wednesday.

At present, logistical operations in the jails were focused on keeping the rival gang members apart by segregation and also limiting their exposure to the rest of the prison population. Mr Mitchell described that operation as “hugely difficult” as groups of prisoners had to be housed in cells away from each other and then moved around in groups for exercise on a daily basis.

Cost of living

Separately, POA president Tony Power said prison officers and their families were now under increased strain due to cost-of-living pressures across the Republic. Addressing Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, who is due to address delegates on Wednesday, Mr Power said prison officers "must now have pay increases that compensate our members for spiraling inflation" and they expected her full support as they fought "vigorously" for a pay rise.

“A Minister coming to a conference like this and praising our members for the work they do is of little comfort when we find ourselves in a cost-of-living crisis. Supermarkets or petrol stations do not accept praise as a form of payment,” he said.

While his members had accepted the terms of the “building momentum” pay agreement at the start of last year, that was based on the economic conditions at the time. However, a rise in inflation of 12 per cent or more was being predicted for this year and the terms of “building momentum” would “no longer suffice”.

Ms McEntee is expected to announce her plans to bring forward proposals to establish the Irish Prison Service on a statutory basis. It would result in the service being a standalone entity, with its own accounting officer, rather than operating as a division of the Department of Justice. The service, which has an annual budget of €400 million, would have a new non-executive oversight board.

The proposal was contained in the performance agreement from last year between the department and Irish Prison Service. However, Ms McEntee said she now plans to seek Government approval for the move and advance it immediately.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times