Former Mountjoy governor says most jail attacks are “connected to drugs and gangland”.


The former governor of Mountjoy Prison said every violent death in Irish prisons is “a failure” for the prison service “and most” are linked to drug gang activity.

ohn Lonergan was speaking following the recent murder in Mountjoy, after Robert O’Connor, 34, died in the early hours of yesterday morning at Mater Hospital from catastrophic head injuries sustained in a vicious attack last Friday.

Gardaí and the prison service are investigating the fatal attack believed to have taken place in Mr O’Connor’s cell and carried out by up to three men.

Four inmates were killed during his tenure at the prison, and John Lonergan said he always viewed the incidents as personal and institutional failures because the “top priority” was protecting life.

Mr Lonergan said prisoners had “the right to expect their safety to be guaranteed” and that while attacks were “fairly common”, fatalities were still “rare”.

Mr O’Connor’s death is the first fatal attack in prison in 16 years.

“Very few serious assaults took place in prison 25 years ago and in the last 100 years.

“Certainly there was no organized crime in prison, no gangs and of course no drug feuds and gang feuds that you have today,” he said.

“They were the single largest factor contributing to the level of violence. Violence in prisons has increased massively over the past 20 years, despite enormous resources being put into security and preventive measures.”

Mr Lonergan said the prison service has “highly qualified staff” and that there is an “emphasis” on reducing the opportunities for prisoners to “arm themselves”.

He explained that information is being collected and used to identify prisoners who are at risk and that there are currently around 400 inmates in protective custody.

That’s 10 percent of all prison inmates.

“Ireland operates on the so-called free association basis, which means that prisoners are generally free to mingle and socialize within prisons and of course free association involves the risk that one individual prisoner or group of prisoners might set out on another Damaging prison there will be an opportunity,” he told RTÉ Radio One today.

“Sure, to go into a cell to get something during evening or lunchtime opening or closing hours, there is that facility and prisoners would make use of it.

“Ninety-nine percent of that would be normal and safe, but if someone goes out to organize an attack on someone in there, that makes it easier, but … You also have to consider that in training, for example, you could have 150 up to 200 inmates looking at walking around a drill yard, and you can imagine the possibilities for inmates if they were so determined to carry out such attacks.”

Mr Lonergan added that it was important to “reassure” inmates’ families that “for the large number of people who are not involved in the drug culture, prisons are very safe”.

“This is very much a gangland, drug warfare environment and anyone who has been involved in this type of activity on the outside, it’s almost inevitable that that particular activity will continue on the inside because eventually the gangs get locked up and go back into prisons.” and in all prisons, not just Mountjoy,” he said.

“One has to recognize that the staff would prevent such attacks on a regular basis and they are never noticed and unfortunately only the critical attacks are the ones that are noticed.

“Personally, I’ve always felt that if someone lost their life, it was a failure of Mountjoy, the system, and myself… but unfortunately the reality is that in a prison environment you can never guarantee that something like this would never happen again .” Former Mountjoy governor says most jail attacks are “connected to drugs and gangland”.

Fry Electronics Team

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