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A prison officer escorts a prisoner.

Govt may reopen Curragh Camp Prison after 20 years as sources warn of overcrowding risks

There are plans also to remove Irish Army soldiers from protection duty at the high security Midlands Prison.

THE IRISH PRISON Service (IPS) is in discussions with the Defence Forces to reopen a mothballed military prison in The Curragh to ease overcrowding in Irish jails, The Journal has learned.

It has also been discovered that Irish troops on armed protection for the Midlands Prison in Portlaoise are to be stood down – two years after it was recommended in the Commission on the Defence Forces. 

Sources have said that such are the problems of overcrowding across the prison population that IPS bosses are looking for creative ways to ease the problem. 

In the late 1990s the Curragh Prison was taken over by the IPS – it was formerly the Military Detention Unit, dating from 1869.

At the time it was refurbished at a cost of £3.3 million – this included modern toilet facilities in all 46 single and 11 double cells. There was also modern support facilities for education, training, medical care and recreation. Around 100 prisoners were housed there.

It acted as a civilian prison until 2003 – at the time there were almost 50 sex offenders housed there. 

The prisoners were moved to a dedicated facility in the Midlands Prison in Portlaoise.  

The closed facility is located deep inside the Curragh Camp which is a training centre and home to a number of specialist units. Sources have said that overcrowding problems across the IPS mean that it could be reopened. 

In a very detailed statement a Department of Justice spokesperson confirmed that the Curragh facility was being examined by Minister Helen McEntee and her officials. 

“The Minister is committed to exploring all potential options to meet future IPS needs and is establishing a group to make recommendations on other future developments, including at Thornton Hall and the Curragh.

“The Department has had initial engagements with the Department of Defence, which owns the prison in the Curragh, regarding a possible recommissioning of the prison as a place of detention. The outcome of a technical assessment of the prison is awaited. The prison in the Curragh was previously used by IPS for a number of years up to 2003,” the statement said. 

The Department spokesperson said that Justice had secured an additional capital funding of €49.5m to commence delivery of plans for four capital projects at Castlerea, Cloverhill, the Midlands and Mountjoy prisons to accommodate up to 670 people.

It is anticipated that work will commence on those projects this year as part of an accelerated capital construction programme.

“That funding will also be used to advance short term projects currently being pursued by the Prison Service that are expected to deliver over 150 spaces this year,” the spokesperson added. 

The IPS has in the past reopened other facilities in Mountjoy in 2020 and new male accommodation as well as the female prison in the same prison. 

The Department spokesperson also confirmed that Justice is liaising with the Department of Defence, the IPS, An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces to remove armed protection from the Midlands. 

This was a key recommendation in the report into the Defence Forces and is likely to progress in the coming months. 

Portlaoise and the military presence there was a key feature of Ireland’s response to the Troubles with IRA prisoners housed there. The operation is known as Aid to the Civil Power. 

It was done to prevent escapes – there was a break out by IRA members in 1974. Also Irish Army soldiers freed prison officers held hostage in 1974.

In 1975 IRA man Tom Smith was shot by the Defence Forces in an escape attempt. 

The prisoner used explosives to breach a door and as they entered a yard Irish soldiers shot Smith in the head. 

In 1985 IRA prisoners IRA prisoners attempted a mass breakout – but it failed when a bomb they manufactured while in custody did not detonate. 

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