Private Notice Question. - Mountjoy Prison Escape.

andMr. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Justice if he will make a statement on the escape of two men from Mountjoy Prison within the last 24 hours; and whether the Minister is prepared to say what steps are being taken to ensure that there is no recurrence.

Preliminary reports available to me indicate that two prisoners, members of a working party of nine who were engaged in food preparation in an area adjoining the kitchen, escaped from Mountjoy Prison at about 7.15 a.m. today. The escape was effected by the prisoners climbing over a boundary wall with the aid of a high door which had been brought to the area in question by contractors engaged in building operations. The detailed circumstances surrounding the escape are being investigated.

As regards steps to ensure there is no recurrence, I must make it quite clear that Mountjoy Prison is not a high security prison and that in it, as in other prisons, a choice has to be made between a regime that seeks to maximise security and a regime that is reasonably liberal. That involves a calculated acceptance of the fact that escapes are liable to occur from time to time. To put this in perspective, I would point out that prison escapes are commonplace in other countries but, except in those cases where they involve persons known to be dangerous or to have been involved in some major crime or something of that kind, we hear nothing about them.

It is established practice when an escape occurs to investigate fully the circumstances and to take such remedial action as the circumstances permit. This includes the taking of appropriate action if the escape is due to culpable negligence on behalf of any individual or individuals. This kind of investigation is based on a basic policy that, while the risk of escape must be accepted, this cannot excuse any negligence on the part of staff charged with the custody of prisoners. I must nevertheless make it clear that, while any negligence that might be involved is taken very seriously, this does not and cannot mean that I could give an assurance that there cannot be any further escapes.

If the Deputies who put down the question want to ensure that secure custody is to be sought as the paramount objective of the prisons they can say goodbye to all those schemes we are operating to improve the lot of prisoners. Even then, security would be less than absolute.

We support completely and unequivocally a balanced approach to this question and we wish the schemes which are being introduced belatedly every success. Is the Minister satisfied with the situation in which there has been a very high number of escapes or abscondings over a period of time? Specifically will he now undertake, or has he already undertaken, an examination or review of areas of our prison system which could be argued to be especially vunerable, and some of which we discussed in this House before and in respect of which the Minister has given some commitment — for example, wood yards and areas like that?

Secondly, the Minister referred to negligence on the part of the staff. Does he accept that, where requests were made over a period of time by governors and staff of these institutions which were not responded to sympathetically by the Department of Justice, he would not imply automatically that there was negligence whenever an escape took place when the necessary precautions sought by the staff were not granted by his Department?

A great deal of what the Deputy is saying has nothing whatsoever to do with this question. I have given a reasonable account of what happened. Nothing the Deputy suggested today or in past contributions in the House would have helped the situation. I accept his sincerity when he says one must try to maintain a balance. That is very important. The Deputy must also accept the fact that escapes can take place. There has not been a very high level of escapes, although Deputy O'Keeffe has tried to maintain that there has.

I understand that in the past 12 months there were three escapes. There were a number of absconders from open centres. There were two absconders from Shelton and 32 from Shanganagh. These are open prisons. I do not think the fact that these people absconded from these open prisons means that they should be closed down. Nothing the Deputy has said would have prevented what happened last night. It appears — an investigation is taking place and that is why I say it appears — that a builder who is involved in a building scheme within the prison had some doors delivered late yesterday evening. Two of these doors were not put into position last night and one in particular was left where it should not have been left. The two gentlemen in question decided to use a door up against a wall. They got up on the wall and walked off.

That is why I referred to wood yards.

This had nothing to do with a wood yard.

It can happen.

I accept that.

A door was provided for them.

Deputy O'Keeffe is full of the Moonies today. I accept Deputy Keating's concern. He understands the situation fairly well. Neither of us is trying to attach blame to anybody. It is a situation which must be monitored on a daily basis. An opportunity presented itself to the two people in question and they availed of it. That opportunity should not have arisen.

Can the Minister tell me two things? When I raised the question of prison escapes on 19 February he said that from the start of the year to 19 February there had been a total of 23 escapes and abscondings. He also told me that, arising out of an escape from Mountjoy, steps had been taken to remedy the deficiencies which had been brought to light to prevent further escapes. The first question is: What is the total number of escapes and abscondings to date from the start of the year? Secondly, could the Minister tell us what deficiencies were brought to light arising out of the last escape from Mountjoy and which were alleged to have been remedied?

The question is fairly specific. I have given a fairly clear statement on this escape. If the Deputy talked to some of his colleagues they could tell him how prisons operate. They would advise him that people have to be very alert at all times in the prison system to make sure that people do not escape.

That is very interesting. Could I have a reply to my question?

The Deputy should have enough manners to let me say what I am trying to say.

Could I have a reply to my question?

If the Deputy wants to have a regime in operation in which escapes could not happen, I am afraid he has another guess coming to him. I do not propose to have that type of regime in Mountjoy Prison. If I did, the daily temporary release scheme would fall by the wayside. The community works scheme would fall by the wayside. There would have to be cut-backs in recreation, on visits by prisoners' families and friends, and in workshop operations. Looking at it in a balanced way, and without having a weather eye out for the next general election, even Deputy O'Keeffe would admit that quite a good job is being done.

Deputy O'Keeffe should compliment me on the fact that since I have been Minister we have had no helicopters in and out of our prisons, no armed trucks breaking down the doors, and no explosives used by prisoners to blast their way out.

A final supplementary.

I will not rise to the helicopter bait since the Minister is flying toy helicopters around Europe. Will the Minister give me the specific information I sought? What is the total number of escapes and abscondings from the start of the year to date?

I can give the Deputy only a provisional figure. I know the number of escapes was three. I am reasonably sure the number of absconders was 34. I think the return rate for the absconders was about 99 per cent. The Deputy should do nothing to arouse public opinion in any way that might harm the liberal regime we have in our prison system.

The second question I asked was what were the deficiencies which the Minister said had been brought to light and remedied and what were the remedies?

I have given the Deputies the detailed situation. I said an investigation is being held into this breakout. I hope that whatever laxity there was — and there was some laxity; otherwise these people could not have escaped — will be remedied.

Finance Bill, 1981.

I wish to raise a point of order. This morning I tabled a Private Notice Question dealing with the threatened closure of the Talbot Motor Company Limited. During the course of Question Time this afternoon it was conveyed to me through your office that this question had been turned down on grounds not related to fact.

I am sorry, Deputy. The Deputy is not in order in raising this matter here and the Deputy knows that well. The Deputy has been informed in the usual way that I have ruled the question out of order and it is very disorderly on his part to attempt to raise the matter here at this stage.

No, Sir, I just want to draw your attention to the fact that the reasons I was given——

I am sorry. The matter cannot be discussed here.

The reasons given are not related to the facts.

I am sorry, Deputy, but I have already informed the House that I have to deal with hundreds of questions in the week and if every Deputy whose question is ruled out were to stand up here and dispute my ruling we would get nothing done.

I would like to show you, Sir——

I am sorry, Deputy.

A Cheann Comhairle, on a point of order. This is a very urgent matter which deserves to be aired even if it has to wait until tomorrow.

No. I am sorry, Deputy. It will not be aired here at this point.

The point of order I am making, if you would listen to me for a minute, is that I was told by your office——

That is not a point of order.

If you would let me finish.

It is not a point of order.

Does the Ceann Comhairle know the place is threatened with closure next Monday?

It is not a point of order. The Minister for Industry, Commerce and Tourism to resume on the Finance Bill, 1981, Second Stage.

I wish to give notice I intend to raise——

I have called the Minister.

May I, through you, give notice that I intend to raise this matter on the Order of Business tomorrow morning to seek a statement from the Minister for Labour as to what steps he will take to save the situation. Many jobs are in jeopardy.

The Deputy may not raise the matter in that fashion.

I intend to raise on the Adjournment this evening a matter also refused by way of Private Notice Question, namely, the complete breakdown of the breathalyser procedure.

I will communicate with the Deputy.

I hope the Chair took notice of the fact that I propose to raise tomorrow the matter to which I referred earlier on the Order of Business.

It will not be in order.