'Gangs order hits from behind bars' - prison officer
Murders and drug shipments are being organised from behind bars as violent gangs with access to mobile phones brazenly continue to run their operations from inside jail, according to the Prison Officers' Association (POA).
Meanwhile, increasingly exposed and under-resourced prison officers are getting injured trying to separate inmates who cannot be allowed to mix with each other on safety grounds, it has been said.
"It's well known that hits have been ordered from inside prison on mobile phones," said POA general secretary John Clinton at its annual conference in Kilkenny yesterday.
"They can get up to anything that they want to to control their empire from inside prison."
Mr Clinton added that murder was a risk within prisons too.
"If one gang wants to get at another and see that the person they want is in prison, the fact that they are in prison won't stop them from getting at that person," he said.
"They will do everything they can to get at them.
"Irish gangs work on a global basis, they've huge resources, huge finances and they can have great influence within the prison system.
"So when they're caught by the gardai and imprisoned, they don't go away, they reform within the prison system and then they operate as they do on the outside."
Another development causing major concern to the POA is what it sees as an increasing number of attacks on female prison officers.
"Attacks on female officers happen much more than before," said POA deputy general secretary Jim Mitchell.
"In days gone by, we never encountered anything like that level of assaults on them.
"It was always an unwritten rule that female officers weren't touched, but prisoners seem to have set that rule aside now."
Outlining different attacks in the past year, he said in the last year there was a sexual assault on a female prison officer in the Midlands, and another attack on a female officer in Mountjoy where the back of her hair was grabbed and she was "smashed off a wall".
"In another instance a prisoner self harmed and threw blood over an officer, and that blood went into the officer's nose and mouth and she is currently out receiving therapy for it," Mr Mitchell added.
Addressing the concerns raised by the POA, the Irish Prison Service's director general Michael Donnellan said he did not believe female officers were being targeted specifically.
"I have no experience of that. I mean we have, unfortunately, very few female officers percentage wise. Today in our prisons it's less than 30pc," he said.
"Women prison officers bring a huge addition to our service and so I don't think there's a specific targeting of women prison officers."
Mr Mitchell called on Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan to place all violent gang prisoners in the high-security Portlaoise Prison.
"It's the only prison in the State equipped to deal with them. These gangs must be controlled or we will lose control of our prisons," he said.
However, the proposal was rejected by Mr Donnellan.
"We have to keep them separated because we need to disrupt their activity, we need to disrupt their communication, and all the evidence internationally is if we put them all together that ends badly," he said.
"Our policy has been for the last number of years to disrupt the gang structure, place them in several prisons around our estate, particularly in two or three, but we are intending to use Portlaoise more in the second half of the year for the more serious people."