TDs who have seen the inside of a cell

 

Liam Lawlor may be the first TD to be jailed as a result of the current tribunal investigations, but several members of the Oireachtas have been "behind bars" since the foundation of the State.

Mr Tony Gregory spent three weeks in Mountjoy for his stand in support of Dublin street traders in the mid-1980s. "It was the time when the AIDS thing was becoming very big and there was no accurate knowledge to be had about the precise nature of the disease," he recalled.

The "more learned" prisoners did their best to get their hands on any medical information they could - from magazines and newspapers - relating to AIDS.

Mr Gregory felt lucky he knew many of the prisoners: "Most of them would have supported the street-trader women and the stand I took."

But there was little opportunity to forget that he was a prisoner, just like the rest. "Once in the gates of Mountjoy and the door is slammed behind you and you're in the shower room and get the order to strip and wash yourself, the sense of captivity is very real."

Jim Larkin was jailed for bankruptcy in the 1940s. Three TDs from Mayo were jailed: Henry Coyle, Dominic Cafferkey, and Bernard Cummins. Coyle was a Cumman na nGaedhal TD for Mayo North in the 1920s who was given three years' jail for bouncing cheques, according to the historian Senator Maurice Manning. He has the distinction of being the only TD to lose his Dail seat because of imprisonment, since his sentence was for more than six months.

The other two were figures from the 1940s land agitation in Mayo - "lieutenants" of Joe Blowick, the Clann na Talmhan party leader. Both spent a month in Sligo jail in the early 1940s. Cummins's time in jail did him no harm electorally. His sojourn recommended him so much to the smallholders of Mayo South that he polled 20,000 at the next by-election, beating the Fianna Fail chairman of the county council, Kiltimagh's Charlie Gilmartin, by 3,000 votes to win his seat in Dail Eireann.

Dominic Cafferkey, from Kilkelly, went on to become a leading Dail spokesman on penal reform, based on his experiences behind bars in Sligo.