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Mountjoy will install net to catch 'catapulted' drugs

STAFF at Mountjoy jail are preparing for a long hot summer in the State's biggest prison as a new clampdown on drug smuggling is introduced.

Senior management in the prison expect a backlash from inmates following the latest attempt to sever the supply of drugs into the jail.

After a review of security at Mountjoy, the new prison regime has decided to take steps to block drugs being catapulted into the four exercise yards.

The management has sanctioned the erection of horizontal security netting enclosing the yards to stop packages and drug-filled tennis balls being hurled over the perimeter walls to the inmates. Work on the project will get under way at the beginning of July and will be completed by the end of September. The cost of the new netting project is expected to be over €200,000.

Justice Minister Dermot Ahern was informed of the new get-tough policy being adopted in the prison during a two-and -a-half hour visit to Mountjoy on Monday.

He was briefed on the security review during talks with the director general of the Irish Prison Service, Brian Purcell, and Mountjoy management, including governor designate Ned Whelan, who is moving from the top security jail at Portlaoise.

Mr Whelan is replacing long-serving governor John Lonergan, who retired from the prison service last month.

At present, the jail yards are surrounded by vertical meshing and gardai deploy regular patrols along the banks of the nearby Royal Canal to stop the drug slingshots.

But the erection of the heavy netting to seal off the yards is seen as a key move in cutting the supply.


It will back up a series of other security measures that are proving to be effective in combating the smuggling and leading to more seizures.

During 2009 there were 547 drug seizures in Mountjoy.

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Staff, spearheaded by the operational support group, have made 364 seizures during the first five months of this year.

Another new security initiative involves the introduction of a database on visitors to all prisons -- expected to exceed more than two million people this year.

Visitors are now being told they must book visits in advance and provide identification on each visit. A pilot project set up last year at Wheatfield jail in west Dublin proved to be a big success.

Apart from helping to counteract smuggling of drugs, weapons and mobile phones into prisons, it is also six times faster than its manual predecessor, catering for the same volume of visitors.

Last year prison officers recorded more than 2.2 million visits to the prisons, including 615,000 into Mountjoy.

Alongside the security measures, the Prison Service has also committed significant investment in recent years to coping with addiction issues.

This included awarding a contract for addiction counselling services to Merchant's Quay Ireland.

This service, in conjunction with other developments, is now delivering almost 1,000 hours a week of prisoner access to drug counselling across the prison system.

The aim of this strategy is to reduce the demand for illicit drugs in the prisoner population while also meeting prisoners' treatment and rehabilitative needs.

After a tour around Mountjoy, which houses the nation's biggest methadone clinic, Mr Ahern praised the staff for coping with the demands of the overcrowded and outdated institution and pledged to press ahead with plans to build a new campus to replace Mountjoy at Thornton Hall in north county Dublin.

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