|This article needs additional citations for verification. (June 2007)|
|Location||Portlaoise, County Laois|
|Security class||Maximum Security|
|Population||119 (as of 2009)|
|Managed by||Irish Prison Service|
Portlaoise Prison (Irish: Príosún Phort Laoise) is Ireland's only high security prison. It is located in Portlaoise, County Laois. It should not be confused with the Midlands Prison, which is a newer, medium security prison situated directly beside it.
The prison was built in the 1830s, making it one of the oldest still operating today in the Irish prison system. It is particularly notable as the prison in which people convicted of membership of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) and other illegal paramilitary organisations are usually detained.
Today the majority of the inmates are Ireland's most dangerous criminals, members of dangerous drug gangs, and criminals serving life sentences for serious crime. A number of Irish Republican prisoners are still in the old E Block. Anyone charged under Section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act must be sent to the prison because of its unique security measures.
The prison has a capacity for 399 prisoners, but because of the security sensitive nature of its inmates, it operates below this capacity and its daily average number of resident inmates was only 119 in 2009. A large number of well armed Irish Defence Forces soldiers guard the prison 24 hours a day, making it one of the most secure prisons in Europe.
The security features include an army detachment consisting of approximate Company strength, armed with assault rifles and anti-aircraft machine guns, who guard the prison complex. An air exclusion zone operates over the entire complex. The perimeter consists of high walls, cameras, and sensors.
Through the years there have been various high profile attempts to spring prisoners from inside the walls. In 1974 nineteen Republican prisoners escaped in one day-light escape.
In 1975 during an attempted escape by the IRA, Tom Smith of the IRA's Dublin Brigade was shot dead by the Irish Defence Forces. The prisoners had blasted their way through a door in the recreation area into the prison yard. As the prisoners entered the yard, Irish soldiers opened fire on the unarmed inmates, shooting Smith in the head. His funeral in Dublin was attended by thousands of republicans.
In November 1985 an IRA mass breakout failed when a bomb, which had been assembled within the prison itself, failed to detonate at the prison gates.
During the 1970s and 1980s the prison was noted for its harsh treatment meted out towards prisoners. In 1977 a number of prisoners went on hunger strike demanding a public enquiry into conditions in the prison. In 1984 the Assistant General Secretary of the Prison Officers Association, Tom Hoare strongly criticized conditions within the prison stating that staff were forced by senior management in the prison to use excessive force against prisoners. He also criticized the then Governor of Portlaoise Prison, William Reilly, and the Minister of Justice Michael Noonan stating "I accuse the minister of negligence in this area. I accuse the management of Portlaoise Prison of being indifferent to complaints. I would hate to be a prisoner making a complaint". At the Prison Officers Association 1984 conference a delegate from Portlaoise Prison, Larry O'Neill, told the conference: "If Hitler wanted generals today he would find plenty of them in Portlaoise. After the war the Nazis said many of them were doing their duty and that is what the management in Portlaoise are saying today".
Conditions within the prison improved after the death of Governor Reilly and the appointment of John Lonergan as Governor of the prison.
In May 2007, an inmate named John Daly, who was serving 9 years for armed robbery, called the RTÉ radio show Liveline from inside the prison. He called in to defend himself against Sunday World crime journalist Paul Williams who was speaking on the radio show at the time. Daly was on air for a few minutes before prison guards took the phone from him and ended the conversation.
This phone call resulted in a major clampdown in all Irish prisons and over 1,300 pieces of contraband being confiscated. Items confiscated in the cell-by-cell searches included numerous mobile phones, plasma televisions and even a budgie which was smuggled into the prison by a visitor who hid the bird internally in her vagina.
John Daly received many death threats from fellow inmates after calling the show and as a result was transferred to other prisons twice before his release in October 2007. A few weeks after his release, he was murdered in Finglas after a night out.
- Angelo Fusco
- Martin Ferris
- Dessie O'Hare
- John Gilligan
- Michael McKevitt
- Paul Magee
- Dominic McGlinchey
- James "Jim" McCann
- €240,700 to keep a prisoner in Portlaoise
- Irish Prison Service (2010). Annual Report. Dublin. p. 11.
- Remembering the Past 19 prisoners escape from Portlaoise
- http://www.anphoblacht.com/news/detail/8970 Tom Smith honoured in Dublin
- The Times, 25 November 1985; pg 2 col A
- Barrett, J.J. (2005). "Chapter 8". Martin Ferris:Man of Kerry. Brandon. p. 171. ISBN 0-86322-351-6.
- Evening Press 24 May 1984
- Irish Examiner - Criminal calls RTÉ’s Liveline from prison cell - May 02, 2007
- Irish Independent — Jailbird, phones, drugs found in prison — 9 May 2007
- Ciaran Byrne Independent.ie (October 23 2007) "The life and crimes of a thug with big ambitions".