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Phones seized on Dochas roof in security blitz

ASH Wednesday turned to 'stash Wednesday' at the Dochas Prison as staff swept the jail for contraband.

Inmates at the women's prison, on Dublin's North Circular Road, were forced to miss Mass on the first day of Lent for security reasons.

The annual Ash Wednesday Mass was cancelled at the jail as an all-day search blitz was ordered at the houses which make up the complex.

Officers searched the jail for contraband -- and discovered a number of phones on the roof of the complex.

The new Government has pledged to provide X-ray scanners for all prisons to eliminate the flow of contraband and the Dochas authorities moved last Wednesday to demonstrate random searches will still be the order of the day. Prison authorities confirmed that Mass had been cancelled as the search blitz was carried out.

Inside sources revealed that objections were raised by non prisoners to the cancellation of the Mass and the traditional anointing with ashes.



Message

No details of any contraband discovered have yet been revealed but sources told the Herald: "The authorities had something in mind when they started this operation. It lasted all day and no one was allowed in or out."

The Prison Service said it did not discuss operational matters.

It is the latest in a number of searches of the prison, ordered by jail governor Ned Whelan.

Last November, the Herald revealed that a text message, which was identified as coming from another prison, warned the women in the Dochas to be on the alert as a search was imminent. They were told they should get rid of any contraband immediately.

Sources told the Herald then that the message was sent from Wheatfield Prison and warned the raid was about to get under way on the following Monday morning. An investigation was later carried out into the matter.

The Dochas is divided into seven " houses" where prisoners share facilities.

They are known as Cedar, Elm, Hazel, Laurel, Maple, Rowan and Phoenix House , the latter housing its most infamous inmate, Catherine Nevin.

Babies are allowed to spend the early months of their lives with their mothers but there is no separate unit.

Figures last year showed that the Dochas Centre, was the most overcrowded prison in the system, operating at 129pc of capacity.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) said the figures showed the overcrowding crisis was "out of control".



Negative

The independent Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, last year claimed it was the policy of the Irish Prison Service to "maintain the Dochas both in the short term and the long term as an overcrowded prison with all the negative aspects that that brings with it".

Overcrowding has led to the introduction of bunk beds and a "doubling up" policy, while staff claim they do not have the numbers to adequately patrol and control the prison.

cmallon@herald.ie