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Friday 1 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C

These are just some of the lethal homemade weapons seized in Irish prisons

The Irish Prison Service launched a confidential helpline today for inmates and members of the public to report information about contraband.

Michelle Hennessy / Michelle Hennessy / /

CRUDE WEAPONS OF every variety, pieced together with everyday items like toothbrushes, are frequently seized in Irish prisons.

These weapons are part of a system of violence and intimidation within the walls of the prisons and integral to the drugs business that is conducted day-to-day.

They are used to make threats against prisoners so they will help smuggle or conceal drugs in the prison and to carry out attacks on inmates if their friends or families on the outside refuse to carry in illegal substances on their visits.


The 375 tablets below were smuggled into Mountjoy Prison internally by the mother of a prisoner. She had received threats from another inmate that her son would be hurt or killed if she did not comply.

Michelle Hennessy / Michelle Hennessy / /

When she got to the prison and was being searched, however, she admitted the whole thing to prison staff. This wad of tablets would have sold for more than €1,800 in the prison, at around €5 each.

Drugs, in general, are worth about five times more in prison than they are on the outside. It is a massive money-making business inside the walls of these institutions, run by some extremely violent gangs and individuals.

Today, the Irish Prison Service launched a confidential hotline so prisoners and their family members have somewhere to turn if they are being threatened, or if they have information about drugs and other contraband that have been smuggled in.

Violence and mental instability

Michael Donnellan, Director General of the Irish Prison Service (IPS), today told reporters that it is a myth that drugs in prisons keep things calm.

He said drugs “fuel violence and fuel mental instability”. They contribute hugely to attacks on inmates and on prison officers.

Last year, there were 986 drugs seizures in Irish prisons. So far this year there have been 418 and Donnellan said many of these seizures have been “substantial”.

Michelle Hennessy / Michelle Hennessy / /

“There is a constant level of drugs within the system,” he said. “We’re seeing drugs being brought in in all kinds of ways.”

Chief officer of the IPS, Ben Buckley, said seizures can vary from a box of tablets to a haul of up to 2,000 of them.

We’re talking about a currency and pressure put on the most vulnerable people.

He spoke, in particular, of people who have come into the system for the first time who instantly become targets and can be put through “horrific ordeals” and threats against their loved ones.

Criminal ingenuity 

Communication between drug bosses and their associates on the outside flows freely  as inmates find new and clever ways of sneaking in mobile phones and hiding them in their cells.

Michelle Hennessy / Michelle Hennessy / /

This tiny phone looks like a car key fob from the back. It can be bought for about €100 online but is worth up to €800 in prison. Inmates would hide these miniature phones internally, one prison officer told us today, and could run an entire business both inside and outside the prison as well as ordering attacks on people who are on the outside.

Michelle Hennessy / Michelle Hennessy / /

Prisoners, using some real criminal ingenuity, are also building furniture they can store drugs, weapons and mobile phones in while they are in the prison workshops. With the skills they learn in woodworking classes, they design and make items with hidden compartments or pop-out shelves.

This fairly innocuous looking bottle of toilet cleaner contained a knife that could do some serious damage to another prisoner or a staff member:

Michelle Hennessy / Michelle Hennessy / /

Buckley said it can be a “dangerous situation” for a prisoner to approach staff to pass on information about drugs or weapons. The hope now is that they will make use of this helpline, which will be added onto their calling cards, and that members of the public who know something will also get in touch.

It is 100% confidential and prison service representatives stressed today they would not be looking to trace the calls and would not be recording any of them. They will simply be used to build up intelligence to help prison staff reduce the level of drug-taking and violence, they said. The number for the helpline is 1800 855 717.

Read: Prisoner spent two hours on roof of Cloverhill today after retrieving drugs>

Read: Prisoner attempted to escape after being brought to hospital from Cork prison>

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