Jailbird, phones, drugs found in prison
A MASSIVE search of the maximum security prison at Portlaoise has uncovered a substantial quantity of smuggled mobile phones, drugs, needles - and even a budgie.
The huge comb-out of two targeted areas of the prison was carried out throughout the day while prisoners remained locked up in their cells.
All available prison officers were drafted in to the jail by new governor Ned Whelan to help with the searches while gardai were also placed on stand-by on landings.
The initial search was carried out on EI landing, which houses notorious criminals including members of the Dublin and Limerick drug-trafficking gangs and a couple of disaffected terrorist inmates.
The cells on the landing were stripped of bedding and some furniture as staff were ordered to ensure that the operation was as comprehensive as possible.
Officers seized at least eight smuggled mobile phones, three SIM cards, around 150 tablets, including ecstasy, a significant quantity of powdered drugs, a large amount of homemade alcohol, known as hooch, and 30 syringes.
The haul also included a budgie, which officers believe had been smuggled into the jail by a female visitor who concealed the bird internally in her body.
Officers suspect that some of the mobile phones had also been smuggled into the jail using the same methods.
The budgie is believed to have been located in the cell of a prisoner serving a lengthy sentence.
Separate sources indicated that other mobile handsets, which were no longer operational, had also been recovered.
Other prisoners based on the EI landing include Dublin thug John Gilligan, whose gang was responsible for the murder of journalist Veronica Guerin in June 1996, members of the Keane gang involved in the Limerick feud and Jeremy Cooper who took part in the Mountjoy hostage incident.
Also there are associates of armed robber John Daly whose use of an illegal mobile phone from his cell on RTE's Liveline programme on Tuesday of last week sparked off the current investigation and review of security at Portlaoise.
Daly has been transferred from Portlaoise to Cork as a result of the incident. His phone was seized last week by staff during the programme.
Prison sources said that tensions were high in the jail last night as a result of the huge search operation and the decision was made to keep the inmates in their cells.
The operation switched last night from the EI landing to the D block. Officers were particularly pleased at seizing the drugs and SIM cards.
One source said one of the SIM cards was worth a dozen handsets and could easily be concealed in a crevice or a door frame.
A retired Garda superintendent and a senior prison service official are heading the special investigation into last week's security breach.
The inquiry was ordered by a furious Justice Minister Michael McDowell.
He said somebody must be held accountable for what he called a brazen and deliberate breach of security. New technology will block the use of mobiles in the prisons.
Tom Brady Security Editor