30 phones seized in raids on Portlaoise prison cells
INMATES at the country's maximum security prison have been directing criminal activity from their cells using using mobile phones and modems to access the internet, gardai believe.
Gardai found 30 phones as well as USB sticks and a number of internet modems during a surprise search on E Wing in Portlaoise Prison early yesterday.
Security sources say that the devices were being used by dissident Republicans to direct terrorist and criminal activities from the wing, which houses members of a variety of dissident Republican gangs.
It is understood that the prison authorities, working with the Crime and Security Branch in Garda HQ in the Phoenix Park, had uncovered "strong intelligence" that several well-known dissidents had access to phones.
The search operation had been planned for some time.
The phones and modems were being used by high-ranking members of the criminal terrorist groups to co-ordinate activity on the outside, including a number of protection rackets and the sale of drugs.
A spokesman for the Irish Prison Service confirmed that a substantial amount of contraband was found in the swoops.
The spokesman said: "A major search operation by the Operational Support Group and Portlaoise Prison staff is currently underway in the E Block of Portlaoise Prison which houses subversive prisoners.
"The search commenced at 7am and is a planned intelligence-led search.
"At present, approximately 30 mobile phones and a number of modems and USB keys have been discovered. For operational and security reasons, no further comment will be made at this stage."
Portlaoise Prison is one of the most secure jails in Western Europe and houses terrorists and major gangland figures.
Heavily armed troops patrol the perimeter and staff are also equipped with weapons capable of shooting down unauthorised aircraft in the event of an escape attempt.
The Irish Prison Service has been attempting to rid the various jails of mobile phones and installed high-tech equipment to block their use.
However, one source last night told the Irish Independent that the use of mobiles to organise criminal activities and murders on prison landings still continues.
The controversy over the prisoners' access to illegal phones in Portlaoise first blew up in 2007 when notorious armed robber and violent criminal John Daly phoned Joe Duffy's Liveline programme from his prison cell.
The call led to a major clampdown in the prison and the seizure of hundreds of phones as well as a large amount of alcohol and drugs. Warders even seized a number of pet budgies which had been smuggled on to the landings.
It is understood that garda specialists will be given the seized devices for further technical examination.
A security source said: "This is a major blow to the dissidents because they tend to see themselves as untouchable within the prison system."