THE Prison Officers’ Association (POA) has called on Taoiseach Micheál Martin to correct comments he made in the Dáil alleging misconduct which it says were later proved untrue.
n July 2021, Mr Martin said reports that a female solicitor was made to remove her bra in order to enter a prison to see a client were “shocking and unacceptable”.
John Clinton, general secretary of the POA, said members are very concerned at “very serious and outlandish contributions” that were made by the Taoiseach in the Dáil at the time.
“What I’m referring to here is allegations of misconduct by some of our members that work on the prison service operational support group at Cloverhill prison,” said Mr Clinton.
“A very serious allegation of misconduct was made about our members. These issues were fully investigated.
“A very comprehensive report has been completed in relation to this incident. It’s very clear from this report, that’s in the Department of Justice, that these serious allegations were false and were not proven. No misconduct took place.
“The Taoiseach made comments that if the issue took place it was extremely serious and people would have to be dealt with.
“However, we felt that as staff working in the prison service on behalf of the State, we were entitled to due process, and that the issue would be investigated before people would go commenting and giving the impression that this incident actually took place. It was found that no misconduct was carried out at all by our members.
“We’ve sent two letters to him in relation to this issue. And we would ask that the record be rectified here. It’s very clear from the report that no misconduct took place by our members, and that they acted appropriately at all times.
“We would like the Taoiseach to correct his contributions made to the Dáil, and clearly point out that there was no misconduct whatsoever on behalf of our members working on that evening in Cloverhill Prison.”
Asked to comment on the matter at the POA annual conference in Sligo today, Justice Minister Helen McEntee said it’s a matter for the Taoiseach to respond to directly. She has “no doubt that he will respond to them”.
Meanwhile, Minister McEntee has said it is “not acceptable” for prisoners to be sleeping on floors due to overcrowding in Irish prisons.
She was speaking as the POA raised overcrowding as a growing problem in jails at the annual conference.
Assistant general secretary of the POA, Gabriel Keaveny, said that 10pc, or more than 30 inmates, in Cloverhill Prison were now sleeping on mattresses.
“That’s completely unsustainable. The whole training unit remains closed in Mountjoy,” he said. “We’ve other instances in the Dóchas Centre and Cork Prison across the estate where there’s problems with overcrowding.
“It has to be dealt with. We need additional spaces as well as the reopening of the training unit.”
POA President Tony Power said overcrowding leads to increased tension and incidents of violence.
“We need about another 600 spaces in the prisons. We have about 4,200 – we need about 4800 or 5000,” he said.
“Because the jails are now being unlocked again, the levels of violence between prisoner-on-prisoner, and in prisoner-on-staff have increased. We had some incidents last week in Mountjoy where some staff got injured.”
Ms McEntee said that in the period before she became minister, in 2019, a review of the capacity of the Irish Prison Service had been carried out. About 140 new spaces were created in the system arising from that.
Looking ahead to later this year, she said 96 new spaces would be provided when the Training Unit on the Mountjoy prison campus in north Dublin came back on stream after renovation.
A new redevelopment in Limerick Prison, also set to open later this year, would bring 90 men’s spaces and 40 for women.
Ms McEntee said she had recently met with the POA and Prison Service and both had raised the issue of overcrowding with her, as well as staffing levels in jails.