The Deputy has requested information on safety issues at Midlands Prison and whether the recent fire in that prison could have been avoided. At the outset, I want to assure the Deputy that the safety of both staff and prisoners is of paramount concern to me as Minister and to management of the Irish Prison Service.
I have been advised by the Irish Prison Service that the cause of the fire at Midlands prison has not been fully determined as the investigation by the Prison Service Fire Safety Officer is on-going. That investigation includes liaison with the local fire service who responded to the incident. The fire was contained to a particular room at the prison and resulted in the transfer of a number of prisoners from Midlands Prison to Portlaoise Prison as a contingency measure, rather than their evacuation from the prison. I have been advised that all fire safety systems operated correctly during the incident.
More generally, in relation to fire safety, over the past three years 42 maintenance requests relating to the fire safety system have been lodged by staff, all of which have been acted upon.
The maintenance of the prison fire safety system is covered under a service contract and all systems are serviced in line with applicable contracts. The latest servicing of the prison fire safety system commenced on the 4th February 2019 and was completed on the 20th February 2019. I can also confirm the fire suppression system was serviced on the 19th February 2019.
As distinct from the 42 maintenance requests in a 3 year period, I have also been advised by the IPS that there have been no complaints related to fire safety reported to the management of Midlands Prison in 2018 nor to date in 2019.
In that same period (2018 and to date in 2019) there have been 553 general health and safety concerns reported to management at the Prison, none of which were deemed to be major defects. They ranged from traffic management to issues concerning prison cell doors.
I am informed by the Director General of the Irish Prison Service that all issues were reported to the Building Services Division of the Irish Prison Service for action. Notwithstanding the ongoing investigation into the cause of the fire, the IPS has confirmed that none of these defects, if rectified, would have in any way avoided the recent fire.
I am further informed that where urgent maintenance is required Midlands Prison can request the services of the Building Services Division of the Irish Prison Service, with requests prioritised for action through the support contractors in place across the Irish Prison Service Estate.