Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Prison Escape Attempt.

1.

Mr. Barrett

asked the Minister for Justice if he will report on the investigation carried out as a result of the recent attempt by three prisoners to escape from Mountjoy Prison; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

On 20 March last three prisoners made their way on to the roof of one of the wings at Mountjoy Prison. Prison officers who were patrolling the grounds of the prison detected the presence of the prisoners on the roof and took appropriate action to prevent their escape. While it is a cause for concern that the prisoners managed to make their way on to the roof, the outcome of the incident was satisfactory in that the deployment of staff, allied to their vigilance and prompt action, frustrated the escape attempt. The staff deployment scheme in use is, of course, designed to cope with any incidents of this type which arise.

The investigation into the escape attempt centred on establishing how the offenders succeeded in gaining access to the roof as well as tracing the sources of material which they obtained to assist in the escape attempt. The Deputy will appreciate that an investigation into any attempted escape inevitably deals with detailed prison security arrangements and that, for obvious reasons, there are severe limits to the amount of information about such matters which it would be open to me to disclose. I can assure the House, however, that security arrangements at all the prisons are kept under continuous review and that special attention is paid to any deficiencies which may come to light as a result of the investigation of particular incidents.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Is the Minister happy that the problems in Mountjoy Prison do not arise from gross overcrowding, the age of the prison and its total unsuitability to hold such large numbers? How can the Minister justify not opening Wheatfield Prison at this stage in view of the continuing problems in Mountjoy arising from escape attempts or from the latest suicide cases in that prison? What proposals has the Minister, if any, to deal with the recommendations in the Whitaker report in relation to alternatives to custody? I am sure the Minister will agree that there are large numbers of prisoners in Mountjoy contributing to the overcrowding who could be dealt with by applying other means of punishment.

I would advise the House that there are questions following dealing with overcrowding and custodial sentences.

There is a whole series of questions that could be answered and I am prepared to answer them but the Deputy would really need to put down a whole lot of separate questions to get the sort of answers his question deserves. I recognise that Deputy Barrett is keenly interested in this area and I would be glad to give the information. I could not deal with that very wide-ranging series of questions in dealing with this question, but there are certain sections of the supplementary questions with which I must deal as they come within the ambit of the question. With regard to overcrowding and whether this contributed to the incident, each of the prisoners involved in this incident was accommodated in a single cell so overcrowding did not have a bearing on the escape attempt. Manning levels at the prison are kept under continuous review in the light of changing circumstances. I am satisfied that sufficient staff were available to deal with the incident. I would stress that the central point is that the escape attempt failed and that the security precautions in the prison intended to cope with this type of attempt were adequate. Of course, the prison authorities are conscious of the safety of the staff, and staff numbers on duty are kept under continuous review. There is a number of other questions on the Order Paper dealing with other matters raised there but, just briefly, because it fits in with this, having regard to the suggestion made by Deputy Barrett in his supplementary question in relation to overcrowding in the prisons, he is quite right, there is serious overcrowding in our prisons.

There are specific questions on that subject matter.

We will wait until those come up and I will deal with them then.

I am calling Question No. 2.