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Gardaí advised to stay away from Mountjoy Prison due to active Covid-19 outbreak

The direction was given by garda management as prison authorities seek to halt the spread of the virus.

Image: Shutterstock/Derick Hudson

GARDAÍ HAVE BEEN advised not to visit the Mountjoy Prison complex in Dublin as part of investigations as the facility deals with a Covid-19 outbreak.

The direction was given by garda management as prison authorities seek to halt the spread of the virus.

At present there are 19 positive Covid-19 cases in the prisoner population while it is understood that there are at least nine confirmed prison staff cases. There are at least 100 close contacts, split among the prisoner population and staff. 

News of the outbreak emerged earlier this week. A spokesperson from the Irish Prison Service confirmed that a major testing regime is now underway to identify all cases.

Testing and other protocols to limit the spread of Covid-19 have been in place in Irish prisons since the start of the pandemic. 

They had been successful but, as sources told The Journal, it was accepted that the anti-virus firewall could not be maintained indefinitely.

A source said that gardaí were issued with a direction not to apply for warrants used to question prisoners. They were also asked not to attend the prison campus to serve summonses and other legal documents on prisoners.

Gardaí use a warrant under Section 42 of the Criminal Justice Act to question prisoners in relation to offences. They can apply for this via a District Court judge. The warrant then permits them to take a prisoner out of the jail to be detained at a garda station for questioning.

“This is a very challenging situation and despite the best efforts of prison officers there has been an outbreak. They worked very hard to keep it out and had been successful but everyone accepts that this was always going to happen, it is the nature of the virus,” a source explained.

“The Section 42 warrants are an important tool to get prisoners in for questioning on serious offences.

“Given recent feuding problems in Dublin and surrounding counties there are a lot of people in prison who are suspects for other serious offences.

“There has also been a direction that prisoners who are due for committal to Mountjoy will be brought there and then transported to Wheatfield Prison instead.

“There are some difficulties surrounding new committals to Dóchas, the women’s prison, but at least any new prisoner that comes in will be in quarantine for 14 days so the big issue for prison authorities is managing the outbreak inside the campus.”

Gabriel Keaveny, of the Irish Prison Officers Association, called on the HSE to act immediately and begin vaccinations of staff and inmates.

“The garda issues are just one aspect of the fallout of an outbreak. There are also a lot of prisoners not going to court, they are having to be sick-noted until the analysis from the tests comes back. Some of the cases are being held on camera but not all.

“There are all sorts of issues around this and it is impossible to social distance in this setting. Whether it be on the wings, inside prison vans, in cell areas in court – it is all a congregated setting and there is no other way of doing it.

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“The POA are calling for the HSE to come at this from a pragmatic perspective and accept that there needs to be immediate vaccination of members and prisoners.

“It is the solution and it’s a solution that they can’t ignore any longer,” he said.

Mountjoy is described as a closed, medium security prison for adult men. It is the main committal prison for Dublin city and county. It has an operational capacity of 554 inmates. 

A spokesperson for the prison service said that the organisation was liaising on a daily basis with Public Health officials to eliminate the outbreak and to manage the risk to prisoners and staff.

“The positive staff cases are currently confined to specific areas within the prison. Following engagement with Public health, HSE the testing of all staff and prisoners for Mountjoy and Dochas Prisons is ongoing.

“Mountjoy Prison Outbreak Control Team (OCT) continues to oversee the appropriate actions to be taken to mitigate against further possible spread of the disease within the prisons.

“The Irish Prison Service is working closely with Public Health, HSE with regard to the management of the current outbreak including making arrangements for the mass testing of staff and prisoners in the Mountjoy and Dochas Prisons.

“To help prevent the spread of infection a strict regime has been introduced which may impact on access to video visits and phone calls in the short terms for prisoners in precautionary isolation however we are working to ensure that we can continue to facilitate family contact as far as possible,” a spokesman explained.

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