PRISON officials are at the centre of a hugely embarrassing security blunder after a man broke into a prison to have a drink with a jailed friend.
With a gift of a bottle of vodka in hand, he walked around the prison for a few minutes and woke up other prisoners in an effort to trace his associate.
But he had no luck and made his way out of the jail -- again unnoticed.
Last night an official investigation was under way into the series of embarrassing security blunders at the open prison at Shelton Abbey, outside Arklow, Co Wicklow.
The break-in happened shortly after 2am when the man, dressed in a hoodie and jeans, kicked in a rear door at the prison.
An examination of CCTV footage later showed the man appeared to be carrying a bag containing a bottle of vodka into the prison.
The intruder apparently walked about the prison and tried to rouse a couple of the inmates but was unable to find his intended drinking companion.
The man then left without being spotted and the break-in was not reported until about 8.30am when the inmates were being let out for breakfast and began talking about their early morning visitor.
Meanwhile, his pal, who is from the Dublin's northside, and who is serving a four year and nine month sentence for robbery and false imprisonment, also heard about the break-in.
He apparently became concerned that he could be in trouble and disappeared from Shelton Abbey. Last night a search was under way for the prisoner, who was due to be let out in April next year. He was described by prison sources as a low-profile inmate who had not created any difficulties while in jail.
The Prison Service is awaiting a report from the governor on the embarrassing incident and inquiries are being carried out to establish how the intruder was able to gain access to the prison.
The inquiries will also focus on the later escape of the prisoner.
Meanwhile, the Prison Officers' Association are hoping for an early meeting with the prison service over the collapse of a computerised lock-in system in Castlerea prison on Thursday.
Staff were locked in with prisoners in classrooms, workshops and the gym when the computer crash and officers had to revert to the old method of using keys to unlock the gates.