Portlaoise Prison to lose cells in refurbishment programme

Requirement for in-cell sanitation will mean less room for prisoners in E Block

The State’s only maximum security prison is set to lose cell capacity due to the building work to end the practice of “slopping out”.

Portlaoise Prison in Co Laois is one of two prisons where prisoners are still forced to use a bucket as a toilet before emptying in the morning. Prisoners in Block E of the facility still do not have access to in-cell sanitation.

Plans are ongoing to install toilets on the block beside the cells but due to the age of the building and the small size of the cells, this is likely to require the removal of many cells.

A pilot project to install a toilet attached to one cell on E Block is ongoing, after which a full refurbishment plan will be drawn up.

E Block houses 13 prisoners and has a bed capacity of 70. For many years the block has been designated as the place of detention for Republican paramilitary prisoners, although the numbers have declined significantly in recent years. It holds about half the number of prisoners it held two years ago.

Overall Portlaoise holds 220 prisoners, including some of the most notorious murderers and organised criminals in the country.

Limerick Prison is the only other facility where inmates are still forced to slop out. That will come to an end later this year when the prisoners are transferred into newly built accommodation on the site, according to the Irish Prison Service.

Breach

In 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that forcing prisoners to slop out was a breach of their constitutional rights.

The ruling led to an avalanche of claims and prompted the State Claims Agency (SCA) to put in place an assessment scheme to determine the level of damages each prisoner should receive and avoid the need for court hearings.

A hearing of the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee last week heard "significant progress" had been made in finalising the claims.

Department of Justice secretary general Oonagh McPhillips told the committee that 2,772 claims had been made as of 2021 and 2,040 (74 per cent) had been completed.