I suppose it is only appropriate that the last dying kick of this Government should be another act of blatant patronage. It has been this way for four years and it is this way at the very end.
Prisons Bill, 1977: Second Stage (Resumed).
We are now on the Prisons Bill.
It will be the same way if, God forbid, the people of the country make the foolish mistake that was made four years and two months ago.
There is the open Government. How can the Minister sit there after that?
I am perfectly happy to be here.
Deputy O'Kennedy must allow the business of the House to proceed in an orderly way.
We have seen the lot of it now.
Order. Deputy O'Malley on the Prisons Bill.
It leaves a very disgusting atmosphere in the House and it is difficult to bring oneself back to ordinary matters when one hears that sort of hypocrisy from the Government that was to be the purest of the pure.
We must get back to the business before the House.
Before Questions, I was saying that I derived a certain wry amusement from this Bill in view of what was said in 1972 and particularly what was said about me and the allegedly sinister and improper motives that I had in introducing it in the wake of a riot that destroyed about one-third of our prison capacity as it existed then. I was drawing a contrast between the fact that it is one thing to propose or agree to military custody for two years in 1972 in the aftermath of that riot and the circumstances that then existed when we literally had nowhere else to put the prisoners—and some of them were very dangerous prisoners—and the very different thing it is now to propose or agree to a further extension of three years, making a total of eight so far in this year of 1977, for the continuation of military custody when three or four prisons, four, I think, have been provided since May, 1972. Three of them were provided by me before I left office in March, 1973, and one since then. There was certainly justification, despite all the criticism from Fine Gale and Labour at the time, for the 1972 Act. There is none now in the present circumstances.
The present prison population was quoted before lunch by Deputy Desmond as 780. When I left office it was about 720, as I recall. There is virtually no difference between the two figures but there are hundreds more places available for prisoners now than there were in 1972. Arbour Hill, Cork and Shelton Abbey are available and the most important one in this context that is available now and was not available then—significantly it is one which the Minister did not mention in his opening speech— is the new high security prison provided in the Curragh since 1973 by the conversion of what I think was called Plunkett Barracks. I understand this was completed about a year ago when our spokesman on Defence, Deputy Dowling saw it and it is lying idle since.
Our spokesmen on Defence and Justice, Deputies Dowling and Collins, sought to inspect it yesterday but, significantly, they were refused permission because the Government did not want it highlighted here today that there is accommodation of a high security nature for quite a number of prisoners away from the military detention barracks at the Curragh, in a different place, and that that prison or place of detention could be used for the imprisonment of civilian prisoners and it could be done under civil control.
When one analyses the present position it seems there is no need, primarily because of the existence of the new unused prison in the Curragh and also because of the existence of extra capacity in other prisons which did not exist in 1972, for a continuation of this system of military custody. Thirty prisoners out of a total population of 780, is a very small number. From the figures given in the Minister's speech this morning it is quite clear that several prisons are not by any means full to capacity and that these 30 prisoners at present in the Curragh under military custody could easily be distributed among the other prisons and held in civilian custody. This is a fact which the Minister cannot change no matter what he may say. It is not a shortage of accommodation that is causing this system of military custody to be maintained. It also seems that at a time when approximately 150,000 people are out of work, it cannot be a question of lack of civilian staff that prevents these 30 prisoners being held in civilian custody. If the Minister were to advertise to-morrow for vacancies in the Prison Services he would be inundated with applicants. There is no job advertised nowadays for which there is not a surplus of applicants.
The Garda Síochána for which there has been no recruitment for several years, had literally thousands of applicants when it was announced recently that an examination would be held. If there are not sufficient civil prison staff to look after all the civilian prisioners they could be recruited within a matter of weeks. There would be a queue a mile long of people looking for the job.
The significance of these two facts is that under the 1972 Prisons Act the Minister for Justice is entitled to transfer people to military custody only if the prison accommodation is insufficient to keep them in civilian custody. We have shown that is not so, that there is plenty of accommodation. If there is a shortage of staff, we have shown there is no difficulty in recruiting them. It seems to me a matter of some doubt whether the Minister under the 1972 Act is entitled to ask the House to continue the process which he and virtually all his colleagues found so obnoxious in 1972.
If they found it obnoxious in 1972— and nobody denies that nearly one-third of our prison accommodation was destroyed overnight—if there is any consistency in the critics of the 1972 Act it must be infinitely more obnoxious to them today. However, in spite of the fact that there is ample accommodation we have a continuation of this process of military custody.
I cannot think of any other country in the EEC that has a semi- or quasi-permanent system of military detention for civilian prisoners. I do not think there is one other than ourselves. I cannot think of what is called a western democracy that has this system which we are now permanently retaining. Certainly it is not in the United States, Canada or in the Scandinavian countries and while I am sure it existed in the past in Spain and Portugal it has been phased out there. It is very doubtful if any civil prisoners remain in military custody in those countries. We are unique among what one would call the genuinely free countries in having this system of detention in military custody on a more or less permanent basis. This is the second renewal of three years in respect of an Act that the Government found obnoxious at the time.
I could have a field day and I would be justified in going through many of the quotations that are in Volume 261 of the Official Report of 23rd May, 1972, and for a number of days afterwards before the Bill was passed. Deputy Collins picked out a few of them this morning and I could quote ten times as many. However, I do not think much purpose is served by it because the kind of people who said these things with such passion in 1972 have such thick hides that it does not seem to matter to them. The kind of people who were prepared to approve of what was announced by the Taoiseach 15 minutes ago will not be worried that they are shown up for the hypocrites they are.
I note that the Minister took the opportunity in his opening statement to make a general speech about the prison situation. I had not anticipated that this would be in order but I assume it is. There are a few remarks I should like to make on the subject as somebody who was very much involved in the problem. I tried to do as much as I could and I succeeded to a reasonable extent in making some major changes in our prison system in the rather short time I was Minister for Justice.
The first thing I note about the speech in terms of the remarks about the general prison situation is that there is absolutely nothing in the speech of what is proposed that was not advocated by me in his House in 1972. Admittedly, there have been problems in the meantime but despite that one would have thought more progress would have been made. As far as I can see, the progress has been virtually nil and in certain respects the movement has been backwards.
One of the most disturbing aspects was to learn from the Minister's speech that the prison accommodation in this country for women is exactly as it was four or five years ago. The first time I visited St. Patrick's Institution was in May or June, 1970. I had never been there before; I had often been to Mountjoy but not to the St. Patrick's section of the Mountjoy complex. I was horrified by what I saw. Women are incarcerated on a floor of a wing of an institution which is used for the detention of young men between 16 and 21 years. The women are on the first floor. There are young men on the second and third floors and there are young men in the other wings of that institution. At that time there were about 150 or 200 young men and about 15 women. Unfortunately, there was no difficulty in communication between the two sections of the institution. I do not think there is any difficulty now because there is nothing that can be done to prevent it. When I was there I overheard the problems that arose from that easy communication. It struck me as absolutely shocking that that should be the situation and that women should be imprisoned in that kind of set up, literally within a matter of feet of a few hundred young men. To say the least, it was very unsatisfactory from the point of view of endeavouring to maintain discipline in the male part of the establishment. The women concerned exercised in what was described as the Governor's garden. That was in the full view of about 50 cells in the male part of St. Patrick's Institution and I was told of some of the things that happened. One did not need to be told because one could readily imagine that these things would happen.
It was in the summer of 1970 and I immediately gave directions that a purpose-built women's prison was to be constructed and that even if there were greater priorities in the prison service from the administrative point of view for obvious reasons this would have to take priority. Architects were instructed to draw up plans and a site was acquired with the help of the then Dublin City Manager who was very helpful and co-operative. The site was ready by early 1972 and the plans completed by late 1972. I went to Deputy Colley who was then Minister for Finance and explained the position to him in some detail. After some persuasion he agreed to allot a sum of £1 million to the Department of Justice in the 1973 Estimates for the building of the prison. There was no reason why the building could not have gone ahead at the beginning of the 1973-74 financial year which would be from April onwards. The plans were ready and the site was obtained. Unfortunately, it now appears from the Minister's speech that nothing was done.
Those women are still in the same position their predecessors were in as long ago as 1970 when I decided, as any normal human being looking at the situation would decide, that it would have to be brought to an end very rapidly. It is probable now that the Kilbarrack women's prison, which in 1973 could have been built for £1 million, will probably cost £2 million today. While it takes two or three years to build, those unfortunate women who are convicted are put into this terrible situation and kept there. The majority of the women who are imprisoned in Mountjoy are there for very petty reasons.
There are countries with more advanced social thinking than ours who feel they should not be in prison at all. They are mainly there for soliciting and for petty shop-lifting. In the case of one group it is probably economic hardship that is causing them to be in the position they are in and in the case of the other group it is likely to be some mental abnormality that has them in their unfortunate position.
I want to refer to Limerick women's prison, which has about ten or 12 inmates. In recent years this has differed radically from Mountjoy prison as they have a few long-term prisoners there, who are subversives, who have caused tremendous trouble there, very seriously assaulted ban-ghardaí and female prison officers. The administration of Limerick prison generally has been considerably upset by the presence of those women and by the apparent necessity to have a very large number of gardaí and soldiers assigned to Limerick prison to keep in three women. The other women in Limerick prison are harmless. They are mainly there for begging or some other trivial offences.
During the past few years 56 gardaí stationed in Limerick have been doing nothing else but prison duties either inside or immediately outside the walls of the prison at Mulgrave Street. During that time the crime situation generally in Limerick has got totally out of hand. A high proportion of the people in Limerick are now living in fear. No denials from the Minister or anybody else will obscure that fact, which is brought home to me daily by the complaints I get. I understand that Limerick is to have the honour next week of a visit from the Minister for the much delayed opening of the new Garda station at Henry Street, which was occupied some time ago by the Garda. No doubt an appropriate announcement will be made that more gardaí will be made available for Limerick, they will now be paid overtime or something else will be announced to enable them to deal with the appalling crime and vandalism there which terrifies so many of the people. I do not believe anybody in Limerick or anybody else will be codded by those announcements, which are being made almost every day of the week for general election consumption and which no doubt, like so many promises made before the last general election, will be conveniently forgotten if the Coalition Government are returned to power on this occasion, which I very greatly doubt.
We will probably have the same type of announcement made in Dublin. We have had it already but the Garda in Dublin said that the figures mentioned were quite inadequate. There is an enormous difference between the number of man hours worked by the Garda in Limerick four years ago and the number worked by them today and during the past 18 months. That is shown up by the fact that the crime situation in Limerick has literally got out of hand. The Garda do not deny that they cannot cope with it. I know they formally deny it to the Minister when formal inquiries are made but that is about the only occasions on which it is denied. I am not allowed to say that the Minister deliberately misled the House. The effect of his remarks was to mislead the House when he said that there are as many or slightly more gardaí in Limerick today than there were four years ago. That is strictly true if every one of them are counted but 56 of them are doing nothing else except sitting in the prison in four shifts of nine or ten each. They cannot even cross the road if they see a crime being committed on the other side of Mulberry Street. They are totally committed to that prison where there are three subversive prisoners.
A good deal of work was done in the early seventies in Limerick prison, which was always one of the more pleasant of our prisons, towards the rehabilitation of our prisoners and their assistance. Unfortunately, because of the presence of so many gardaí and soldiers, the atmosphere is so unpleasant not alone for prisoners but for prison officers that much of the work that was done in the past with much success and which should have been developing in recent years, is now unfortunately at an end.
The Minister referred to Arbour Hill, Cork, Blacklion, Loughan House, Shelton Abbey in Arklow, Shanganagh, all the institutions opened in recent years, as if he produced them since he came to office. The truth is that they were all there before I left office. They were either open or in the process of being rebuilt. Shelton Abbey is put down in the Minister's statement as being able to accommodate 15 to 20 prisoners. It is an open prison and there is no difficulty about accommodating a great deal more. Cork can accommodate a lot more prisoners than the number the Minister indicated if the will was there to put them there. It would be perfectly feasible, between all the prisons which are not filled to capacity at the moment, to accommodate the 30 men who are at present in military custody.
The second paragraph of the Minister's speech is a fairly long description of various things done by violent prisoners in the prisons since he took office. This catalogue of smuggling explosives into prisons, blowing their way out of them in large numbers and all the other things they did during his time relate entirely to Portlaoise prison but not to the Curragh. There are about 150 Provos in Portlaoise. There has been trouble there all along but there have been no reports in recent years of violence of this or any other kind among the 30 prisoners at the Curragh. These are not the violent men of whom the Minister speaks. So far as I know they are not Provisional IRA but represent a cross-section of people who have been convicted of crime. In response to members of Fine Gael and Labour at the time of the passage of the original Act in 1952 I had to give an undertaking to the House that we would not have only people whom they referred to as political prisoners at the Curragh. I recollect there being a cross-section of the prison population there in the early days at least. I cannot speak for what may have happened since I left office but at that time those people comprised some who had been convicted of murder, others who had been convicted of fraud and housebreaking and some who had been convicted of assaults either of a physical or sexual nature. To the best of my recollection there has not been in recent years any incident of any significance at the Curragh that would indicate that the prisoners there were acting in a violent fashion, so violent that they would have to be restrained by military police rather than to be dealt with in the normal way by civilian prison officers, whereas there have been almost a daily litany of violent activity at Portlaoise where the prisoners are not in military custody and where, apparently from all that is said and written, the level of violence is considerable. The long paragraph at the beginning of the Minister's speech in relation to the smuggling in of explosives which were used by prisoners to blow their way out refers only to Portlaoise and to Provisional IRA prisoners. It does not refer to those people who are held in military custody at the Curragh.
It seems extraordinary, therefore, that if we are being asked, because of the violent nature of some prisoners, to retain for a further three years this system of military custody for civilian prisoners, that this system should be retained for relatively mild prisoners while those who are violent by common consent can be held in civilian custody. There is no logic in such approach. One asks, therefore, why the Bill is being brought forward. Is it being put through for some other reason? The only other reason that the Minister gives is that because from time to time prisoners go on hunger strike it is good to retain this power so that they can be transferred to military custody for treatment rather than be treated at a general hospital. I agree with that having regard to what happened on an occasion in 1972 when we tried to treat a prominent IRA prisoner at the Mater Hospital and when thousands of people, led by a Labour TD who now supports this Minister in what he is doing, paraded outside that hospital and terrorised the 550 patients there in support of the then leader of the IRA and who were harangued by a Labour TD in his support. That meeting so inflamed passions that the following day a group of six or eight men attacked that hospital, firing guns down the corridors for the purpose of attempting to rescue the gentleman concerned.
Consequently, I am aware perhaps better than anyone else, with the possible exception of Deputy Thornley, of how unsatisfactory it is to try to treat in general civilian hospitals people who are on hunger strike. But there is nothing to prevent them being treated at the Curragh Military Hospital while under civilian rather than military custody because all that is needed for that purpose is the presence of one civilian officer in whose custody they would be, technically, while there. Three civilian officers would be required, each working an eight-hour shift. That was what we did during the four or five days that elapsed between the riot at Mountjoy on the 18th May, 1972, and the passing of the 1972 Act. Technically, those prisoners were in civilian custody for those days. Obviously, the military hospital at the Curragh would have to be guarded in the last resort by soldiers but there is nothing to prevent prisoners in civilian custody being sent there.
Therefore, the argument put forward by the Minister in this regard is a spurious excuse for the alleged necessity for this Bill. The major difference between now and 1972 is that not only are there all those extra prisons which I provided in the aftermath of 1972—Arbour Hill, Shelton Abbey, Cork and so on—but we now have something that we had not thought of then and which we had not the possibility of acquiring in a short period. I refer to the new maximum security prison that is being left empty. When Deputy Dowling saw this prison 12 months ago he took it to be finished but yesterday both he and Deputy Collins were refused permission to see it again. Of course, the Government in acting in this way were well aware of the weakness of their case. While that prison is there, there is no justification for the continuance for a further three years, making a total of eight years, of this system of military custody which is without precedent in western democracies and in free countries generally. I wonder whether there is any use appealing to the conscience we heard so much from in 1972. It looks as if the benches opposite are as empty now as the 1972 conscience today is empty of principle.
It is well-known that the Army are sick and tired of this system of holding civilian prisoners in military custody. It is having an effect on the morale of the Army and is preventing recruitment because of the knowledge that after joining a soldier may be required to serve for a few years in the role of a prison warder, a role for which the average young man does not join the Army. The new high security prison at the Curragh could be put under civilian control with the assistance of the Army if necessary as is the case at Portlaoise. It would be very much more convenient for the Army to have to go only a few yards down the road to the new prison rather than have to travel the 30 or so miles to Portlaoise where conditions are very difficult. They would much prefer to be able to live in their own homes or in the barracks, as the case may be.
I have demonstrated that the two reasons given by the Minister for the Bill are invalid but if there were a real reason for the Bill—and we have not heard of one so far—that would necessitate the 1972 Act being continued into the eighties as is proposed here.
The Second Stage of this Bill when I introduced it originally on 2nd May, 1972, was subjected to an absolute torrent of abuse from Fine Gael and Labour. All my motives were questioned and I was called a Hitler by Deputy Cruise-O'Brien, now Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, and similar things by similar types of people. The one thing they were all screaming for was a time limit. Not all of them agreed to this because eight voted against it, but most of them would agree to it, even though they found it obnoxious, if it were limited to 12 months. They said that Mountjoy could be rebuilt in 12 months. I told them it could not.
I took advice that night after Second Stage as to how long it would take and I was advised it would take up to three years. I came back the following day in a conciliatory mood and tried to meet what I thought at the time were genuine and sincere criticisms. I wish I had then the wisdom of five years later and I would have known how genuine and sincere they were. In an effort to meet what I thought were genuine criticisms I said: "All right, I will introduce an amendment. We will put in a subsection providing a three-year limitation on this. It will expire at the end of three years." But three years was not good enough. All the liberals and pinks and all the rest of them, all the leopards who have since changed their spots, would not dream of that. That was totally impossible for a Fine Gael liberal or a Labour socialist, as they then were, to agree to. They put down an amendment for 12 months. Finally I compromised and said: "All right, we will split the difference. We will have two years, although I do not think it is long enough and there is a possibility that it may have to be renewed for another year because I do not think that all the necessary work will be done in two years. We will try to do it in two years and if we cannot we will extend it for a further year." Finally that was agreed to. It was voted against by eight people including members of the present Government but it was agreed to by the vast majority of the House.
Now it is eight years here without so much as a by your leave. Look at the empty benches. Look at the concerned consciences now. In 1972 the whole of these benches were full of people jumping up trying to catch the Ceann Comhairle's eye so that they could get in to condemn the fascism and so on that the Government of the day were exhibiting when they refused to let dangerous criminals loose on the street. I was a fascist and Fianna Fáil were fascists because we did that. There was a mob outside the gates here of a couple of thousand screaming for blood, and people who sat on these Opposition benches at that time were going out and lending succour to them and then coming in here and making speeches lending succour to them too. There was the celebrated debate when one of the great supporters of this present Government, Deputy Coughlan, made the celebrated contribution that 80 per cent of the Irish people supported the Provisional IRA. That debate was noteworthy, along with some others, for some things, but a lot of water seems to have flowed under the bridge since then, a lot of people seem to have extraordinarily short memories and a lot of hypocrisy seems to be taken for granted today.
For reasons that Deputy G. Collins and I outlined, we propose to put down an amendment or amendments as may be necessary on Committee Stage of this Bill to limit its operation, not to a further three years, but simply to a further 12 months. It seems to us that this is more than adequate. Assuming that there is some short-term valid reason for this Bill, although the Minister has not given a valid reason for it, I would be prepared to extend this for a further 12 months but no longer. That would be keeping the Bill in existence for six years in all. No western democracy that I know of has any such provision in its law or would contemplate any such provision in its law unless it were in a state of absolute siege. This country is not in a state of siege. It is not in a state of emergency in spite of the efforts of the Government last August and September to convince us that it was. Maybe it is in a state of economic emergency but it is not in a state of emergency in the sense that the institutions of this State are in any danger of being overthrown at present.
They are not now.
And never were, and the time of greatest danger to the institutions of this State was December of 1972 when there were mobs outside the gates of this House and when there were a thousand guards lined across the front gates of Leinster House blocking the end of Molesworth Street and more guards at the back in Merrion Square to protect this House on that side. There were 100 armed soldiers in the lane between Government Buildings and the new block of the Dáil with loaded rifles ready to fire to kill to prevent this House being burned down. That was the time, and the only time I know of, when the institutions of this State were in mortal danger. Instead of the Opposition of the day rallying to the defence of this country and its institutions we had them below haranguing mobs in front of the Mater Hospital, and we had them in this House making speeches to seek to prevent this country defending itself against those who would overthrow it. Because the Leader of one party was not prepared to go against the Government at that time we had people, who know very well who they are, who were in this Chamber then conniving and intriguing behind his back to overthrow him. The only thing that saved him on that night was an unfortunate incident in which a number of people tragically lost their lives. That was the time when the institutions of this State were in immediate danger. I hope to God that whatever length of time I live it will be the only time because I hope that we will never again have an Opposition in this House who would give succour to a mob that would have overthrown this State as did the Opposition who sat here during the Prisons Bill of 1972, the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Bill, 1972 and the Prohibition of Forcible Entry and Occupation Bill of 1971. Because there were men who were then able to stand up against that threat, with no encouragement from this House and not as much encouragement from the country as a whole as there is today, those institutions survived. It does not take much courage today because 99 per cent of the people realise just what the IRA and all these other people are. It was much harder to convince them of that in the very early Seventies, and the Opposition of that day is the proof of that.
I would like to add my words to the words of our spokesman, Deputy Collins, and Deputy O'Malley and the other speakers. First I should like to question the sorry state of affairs here yesterday when we were told the Government deprived Members of this House of an opportunity of visiting the high security prison at the Curragh. Some years ago, when this prison was being developed, I asked the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, who was at that time dealing with the Estimate on Justice, to give some indication of the prison development taking place there. I was told by him at that time that there was no prison being built at the Curragh. Dealing the same day with the Estimate on Defence he told me that the Defence Forces knew nothing about such development. I rang the Departments of Justice and Defence seeking information. I was told by both that they knew nothing about the development of a prison at the Curragh. That is the situation with which we were faced with at that stage.
As a Member of this House I then sought permission to visit the Curragh Camp, which is obtained from the Minister for Defence, and, when I arrived, I found that the building had been almost completed. Therefore, one can readily understand the anxiety of Members of this House when neither Department knew anything about that development. At that stage I asked them who was building the prison. Now this high security prison has been completed. The military barracks have been converted, at very great cost, into this high security prison, with pill boxes and all of the high security facilities that make such a prison one of top security.
One wonders what the Government have to hide when they failed to respond to the request of two Members of this House to visit the complex at the Curragh. One wonders what is cooking behind the wire? There is some secrecy about it. We want to know what is behind it. We were told that this was an open Government. But one finds, when one questions Ministers or the Government in relation to such matters, one gets a blank answer. In fact, on one occasion we were told that such a prison did not exist and, when we discovered that it did, we were told we could not visit it. No doubt any Member of this House who had seen that development would have been fortified in a debate such as this. He would be aware of the pros and cons. During the course of his visit there he would be made aware of the problems of internal and other security arrangements. He would then be in a position to come into this House and make a contribution in the knowledge that he had the full facs.
Before termination of this debate perhaps the Minister could tell us what is the secrecy about this encampment at the Curragh, about this high security prison, a prison that now covers an extensive area of the original Curragh Camp. Indeed one might well ask why this area was selected. I asked that question here before. Why should the military encampment there be made vulnerable by the building of such a prison within its confines? Surely the Minister and the Government must be aware of the pressures applied on the Curragh Camp when prisoners were first placed there. Indeed for years afterwards protests were made about the encroachment on the perimeter of the military camp adjacent to married quarters where the wives and families of Army personnel in some cases were terrified by what they regarded as approaching danger. Until such time as we receive an answer as to what is the secrecy and what is hidden behind the barbed wire at the Curragh we shall not be able to set out our thoughts clearly in relation to the matter.
Deputy Collins has indicated already our support for every safeguard measure in relation to disruptive activities, in relation to mob law, to subversive organisations. Our expressions have been full and complete on all occasions in relation to the maintenance of law and order and the protection of the institutions of State. It is no less today than on any occasion in the past when, as he said, Deputy O'Malley was vilified and attacked inside and outside this House by Members and their supporters in relation to the job he had to do. Indeed the job the Minister has to carry out is a difficult one. The Minister must feel now as Deputy O'Malley felt when he had come into this House seeking concessions in relation to changes within the structure for prisoners.
It is difficult to understand the purpose of this prison, the manner in which it will be used and the problems involved. Military custody and detention and high security prisons from time to time smack of internment of one type or another. This prison has lain there completed for a considerable period. I understand that the final touches make it indeed an up-to-date one from the point of view of conditions and accessories. In replying perhaps the Minister will tell us why Members of this House were not afforded an opportunity of visiting this prison and will explain the manner in which it will be used.
In relation to military detention and the detention of prisoners in military custody one must consider first the demoralising effect they have on serving personnel in the Defence Forces. The Minister rightly pays tribute to the Defence Forces for the way in which they carry out their duties. But men do not join the Defence Forces to become prison warders. It is a very specialised job, requiring a high degree of training, so that such personnel are fully equipped to deal with the problems one meets in the handling of prisoners of one type or another. Military personnel are not trained for this type of operation. Indeed I can say that they are gravely concerned about the development of a high security prison within the Curragh and about the maintenance of prisoners there at all.
It is necessary and desirable to have competent, efficient people trained to do an efficient job in dealing with prisoners especially now when we hear so much about prisoners problems and brutality to prisoners. Military personnel change from day to day and they are not trained to act as prison warders. I am sure that the morale of the military assigned to such duties is very low. They did not join the Defence Forces for that, but because of the present circumstances they must carry out prison warder duties. Given the option, I am sure many of them would give the Minister his answer. The Garda and the military carry out their rightful duties effectively and thoroughly under difficult circumstances.
The Minister should set up an independent inquiry into the allegations of brutality that are being made against prison authorities and Garda, so as to relieve the tensions and pressures that build up as a result of false allegations. My sympathy is with the prison officers who must contend with rowdy elements and the other elements which have been mentioned here from time to time.
The advantages of the General Military Hospital in the Curragh, for assisting prisoners who will be imprisoned there have been mentioned. No mention has been made of the fact that recently two prisoners escaped from that hospital through a toilet window. No matter where the prisoners are stationed, escapes take place. Prisoners do not need explosives, or armoured vehicles. The fact that it is near a military hospital is neither here nor there. Prisoners must be maintained. This is a highly specialised job for people trained to undertake the work. The Minister will not deny that many aspects of a prison officer's work requires specialised training. To move prisoners from an area where there is highly skilled and highly trained personnel to the atmosphere in a military prison, with members of the Defence Forces in charge, who are not trained, and who do not want the job, is bad for morale all round. I am sure that the military personnel who must undertake these duties do them to the best of their ability but I hope the time will come shortly when it will not be necessary to use military detention centres. There are all too few civilian detention centres in Dublin city. The crime rate has increased, and there is nowhere to confine young offenders who have been caught committing serious crimes. They are allowed out immediately and they continue committing offences.
The Minister's problems are many and varied and for that reason one can understand the large amounts of information contained in some sections of his brief, and the limited information contained in other sections. The Minister spoke about disruptive elements in society. As pointed out earlier by Deputy Collins and other Members, when reasonable measures to maintain law and order come before this House, this party will respond generously. We must be made aware of the problems. There must be no secrecy as there was on this occasion; as there was a day or two ago when the representation was made to the Department. I do not know if the Minister for Justice was aware of the request. I do not know whether the Minister for Justice supported the Minister for Defence in his rejection of the request, or whether it was a Government decision. In any event, the responsibility falls on each member of the Government, so the Minister for Justice is as responsible for the decision as is the Minister for Defence. It was a reasonable request and until such time as we are told the reason for the rejection there will be an air of suspicion as to the great cover-up.
When Deputy O'Malley brought a Bill before this House there was vicious and violent opposition from within and without. We see a sorry change in the Members of this House who were very vocal in their opposition in relation to law and order. Deputy O'Malley's Bill was attacked by both Labour and Fine Gael. Many people now in detention are there as a result of the encouragement they got at that time. The responsibility falls on the shoulders of the present Government. Many of these people have now seen the folly of their ways and have realised that there is such a thing as internal security. The Minister should give us the information we require even if we are not allowed to see the institution, to show that the Minister and the Government have nothing to hide. The prison officers and the Garda have been subjected to attacks from time to time by the vicious sections of the community. False allegations of brutality have been made which must be cleared up as effectively as possible.
The Deputy is moving away from the Bill.
From time to time the Minister has been asked to hold independent inquiries to eliminate the allegations against this very responsible and involved body of people. Their standing must be of the highest order. I am sure no Member of this House doubts the sincerity and the efficiency of members of the prison staff and of the Garda Síochána. They have to carry out their duties under very difficult conditions. They were often deserted by authority, by the authority of this House, and by the Government. Recently there have been indications of a change of attitude now that the security situation has deteriorated to a high risk level.
This is a city of fear, a city of steel shutters, as I said in another debate. There are many problems in the city. There must be some restraint on members of the public who commit crimes. As we go through the long list of crimes and see the burnings, the robberies, the rapes, the robberies with violence and the robberies without violence——
The Deputy is moving away from the Bill.
Many people are brought before the courts and are allowed home because there is nowhere to retain them. In a city of fear such as Dublin, and in a country of fear, people are under constant attack and therefore it is necessary to make available additional accommodation. It is very sad that the security situation, which is operated by what we are told are a law and order Government, has been allowed to deteriorate to the level at which every person is at risk. The Minister knows that only too well. I have had discussions with parents' organisations and with community organisations in which Ministers participated and the full facts of the terrible crime situation in this city——
The Deputy is continuing to ignore what the Chair has asked him to do, that is, to stay within the terms of the Bill.
I will deal with many aspects of the Bill. I want to deal with the ground forces and the air cover personnel get when they are travelling from Portlaoise to the courts in Dublin and elsewhere. That is relevant to the Bill.
No. The Bill continues for a limited period the Prisons Act, 1972.
I want to deal with the question of security and the cost of security, prisoners travelling, the protection they have to get. These are all involved in the Bill.
The Chair is telling the Deputy that they are not and the Deputy is continuing to ignore the advice of the Chair.
On a point of order, this Bill has to do with prisoners in military custody.
This Bill extends for a limited period the temporary Prisons Act which was before the House previously.
I am aware of what is stated in your brief, Sir, but I should like to refer you to the Minister's opening statement in which we had a long disclosure from him on the situation with regard to prisons. Surely when we are talking about this Bill, which gives the Minister and the Government power to keep prisoners under military custody, we can talk about military custody. We have already been talking about a lot of other things which are not in the Bill. If we cannot talk about security when we are talking about prisoners, and the whole thing came about as a result of security, what the hell are we here for?
That is an unparliamentary expression.
In no way.
So is that.
If one rule is to be in operation now, let it be the one that was in operation all day and not change it.
This is possibly one of the most important measures to come before this House because it relates to law and order and there is a complete breakdown in law and order. As the Minister, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and the House know, there has been a complete breakdown in law and order in this city and in the country.
The Minister said:
Three years ago I stated that this problem could be solved by building a special high security prison unit capable of housing up to 30 high risk prisoners.
Why did the Minister drop that idea if he considered it necessary three years ago?
The reasons are set out in my speech.
I agree it is necessary to have good housing accommodation for military personnel. Does the Minister consider the housing of military personnel takes priority over the establishment of the type of building he considers necessary to retain prisoners in? Military personnel must have proper facilities. There is also the question of the development of a high security prison which the Minister said three years ago was necessary and would solve the problem. Since then, the whole question of law and order has been on the downgrade. This is a typical example of procrastination by the Minister and the Government.
It is easy to understand the volume of crime which has accumulated over the past three years. The bully boys and the thugs and the vandals of every type are running riot because of a lack of decision by the Government. The Minister has admitted he failed to carry out a function which he considered necessary three years ago. The Minister and the Government have been irresponsible in allowing the law and order situation to deteriorate to the level at which it is today.
The Minister said:
The long-term solution to the problem is to build a highly secure prison unit for them but at the moment this is not possible. There is no alternative, therefore, but to continue to hold them in military custody in the Military Detention Barracks, Curragh Training Camp.
Would the Minister agree that the most objectionable place to hold prisoners is in military custody? Throughout the years this has been so regarded by everyone and especially by the personnel who have to carry out this job. The Minister has shifted his ground on this matter. He believed these measures were necessary three years ago but he did not equip himself to do the job. Then he considered that the long term solution would be the building of a high security prison unit; then he tells us that the Curragh is being used because it is close to the military hospital notwithstanding the fact that prisoners can escape from there through the skylight and the toilet.
Three years ago the Minister indicated that he thought the problem could be solved. What about the women's prison in Kilbarrack? The plans have been put on ice. We are to have a high security unit capable of housing up to 30 high risk prisoners. We have no detention centres for young vandals. The Minister must bear complete and absolute responsibility in all these matters. Can he tell us why there has been a cut back? Why were the detention centres not provided? Was it a question of finance? Did the Minister believe that the problems would go away overnight? He let the prison security system run down through his lack of effort. There must be provision for the young people being brought before the courts; there is need for a women's prison and a high security prison. When we take these together we see the lack of dedication to law and order shown by this Government. This is an area on which they pride themselves.
It is a sad state of affairs that a Bill of this nature should come before this House. As Deputies O'Malley, Collins and Moore have indicated, we on this side have been at one on the issue of ensuring law and order within the State. In recent times the lack of control of the destructive elements in our society was brought about by a complete run down of security and the Bill indicates a period of decline over the past three years. Everyone accepts that this has caused the situations which we face today.
In relation to inquiries, will the Minister give an undertaking that the good name of the people involved will be cleared at the earliest possible moment? This is a most important matter and it has been mentioned time and time again.
I know that the Minister must be in difficulties with many of his Labour Party colleagues whose benches are deserted today, who have been vocal in the past on this issue and who participated in mob law and in protests of one type or another in this city not long ago. We know the difficulties facing the Minister with his Labour Party colleagues. This is an absolutely and completely irresponsible section of Government regarding law and order. We know the damage they did in the days when it was necessary and desirable to bring in new legislation such as that introduced by Deputy O'Malley. We know the protest they made inside and outside this House. We know how they motivated the mobs; we know how they had the hire-a-crowd groups outside the gates of the House and elsewhere. It is very sad to think that Members of this House would participate in that type of activity which certainly makes justice a farce.
Let us hope that before this debate concludes we will hear the voice of Labour—if there is any voice left—so that we will know how they stand in relation to law and order and the basic issues that have come before the House today and will come before it in the future. It is necessary and desirable that they should make their policy known in these matters. Will they continue if they are in Opposition, as they did in Opposition before, to impede responsible Ministers who endeavour to deal with the situations of the day and the threats to the institutions of the State and the security of the person? What is their long term view on this? Have they one view in Government and another view in Opposition? Will we see the same type of irresponsible behaviour if they are pushed into Opposition? Of course, the next time there will not be so many of them; their voice will not be so loud. The public at large should have an indication of how these people stand.
I know Deputies in my constituency who spoke long and loud about these problems and who from time to time have been mixing with people who are responsible for some of the most hideous crimes.
The Deputy should not impute anything like that to Members of the House.
Members of this House are on record as participating in all sorts of mob law activities. This is only too well known to the press, Members of the House and, indeed, the public at large.
The Deputy knows quite well that no motive like that should be imputed to Members.
I suppose that the next speaker will refer to some of the matters which I have mentioned. There are quite a number of other points I wish to raise.