THE VIOLENT disturbances at Cloverhill Prison last week may have shocked some, but they should not have surprised anyone.
Conditions in our country's prisons have, for many years, been conducive to sporadic outbreaks of violence. In fact, it's hard to remember it any other way.
Last Wednesday's disturbances quickly escalated from a yard protest to a confrontation between officers and a group of prisoners. During the disturbances a young man was attacked and some inmates climbed onto the roof, refusing to come down.
This was a tense and dangerous situation. The stand-off continued for hours before order was restored by prison officers. The inmates came down off the roof early the next day.
The Prison Service should be commended for its professional handling of this dangerous incident. In every prison riot there is a very real danger of serious injuries or worse to prison officers or prisoners alike.
The scenes at Cloverhill Prison were not unique.
Back in the early 1970s as a young garda I witnessed first hand the terrifying experience of being involved in a full-blown prison riot. In that case I was one of 100 gardai who were sent into Mountjoy Prison to help quell disturbances there.
One wing of the prison had been set alight and trashed. The rioters armed themselves with handmade missiles. I remember how they ripped the doors off their cells and threw them down three storeys onto us.
In the violent confrontation it was a miracle that no-one was killed or seriously injured. It was one of the most frightening experiences I had in my career.
The rioters eventually surrendered and order was restored. To this day I still recall the sights and sounds.
What occurred at Cloverhill Prison last week is now the subject of an internal Prison Service inquiry and a garda investigation.
But the motive for the violence is simple. Prison is a dangerous environment and some jails, at times, are powderkegs, waiting on a spark that will ignite them.
A number of savage attacks by prisoners on fellow inmates and prison officers have been recorded in recent years.
It was recently reported that a prisoner in Portlaoise Prison requires an entourage of three officers in riot gear when he is moved from his cell.
In the last four months 31 staff members at Oberstown child detention centre have been injured during clashes with young criminals, who grow up to stage riots like those at Cloverhill Prison.
The Prison Service recently displayed a fearsome collection of improvised weapons staff seized in Irish jails.
Given all these factors it's not surprising when violence erupts.
Every resource must be now be given to prison staff to ensure their safety - and that such disturbances are dealt with effectively before lives are lost.
THE commemoration of the centenary of the funeral of Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa last weekend was moving.
The event, which took place at Glasnevin Cemetery and marked 100 years since the Fenian was laid to rest there, featured a re-enactment of Padraig Pearse's famous oration at O'Donovan Rossa's graveside. Many see this address as a catalyst for the subsequent 1916 Rising.
The event was dignified, well-choreographed and well-scripted.
One Irish political party were clearly less than satisfied with it though, and decided to stage their own commemoration. Sinn Fein organised a rival event, marching from the city centre to Glasnevin with a casket, to re-enact the Fenian's funeral.
It's likely that Sinn Fein will hold more of these events - their own commemorations of 1916 centenaries - in the coming months.
We shouldn't be too surprised. For years Sinn Fein and the IRA did not accept the legitimacy of the Dail. That may have changed (for Sinn Fein at least) but now it seems that the party is questioning the legitimacy of official commemorations.
Times have moved on, but many in Sinn Fein seem to feel more comfortable indulging in their own narrative, rather than joining the rest of the Irish people in remembering and commemorating the events of 100 years ago.
Events like last weekend's show that many in the party and their support base still view our State with, at the very least, distrust, if not outright contempt at times.
Look out for more attempts by Sinn Fein to hijack official commemorations in the coming months, as the 1916 centenary draws closer ... and ignore them.
MILLIONS of TV viewers, myself included, were saddened to learn of the death of Cilla Black.
It's hard to believe that she was a star for more than 50 years, having started out as the cloakroom girl in Liverpool's famous Cavern nightclub. After that she had a successful singing career before going on to present hugely popular TV shows like Blind Date and Surprise Surprise.
People warmed to Cilla because she came across as an ordinary person, informal and friendly. This was particularly apparent on TV, when she would set ordinary people at ease in front of the cameras.
Despite TV fame, Cilla remained hugely popular with the public right up to the end.
Although she had not appeared much in public in recent years she will still be missed greatly.
Ta-ra chuck - you gave us a lot of joy and happiness.
Well done to all of the athletes who wore the green jersey at the Special Olympics World Games in LA last week. One athlete who summed up the spirit and skill of the Irish was Peter Maylnn, the bocce gold medallist who, at 57, was our oldest competitor. Well done to Peter and all those who represented us so well.
HOw on earth can a man who beat his dog to death in a park full of children avoid jail? Yet Liam Dowling got community service after killing his Jack Russell by swinging it on its lead and smashing it into the ground. This sick individual should be behind bars - such treatment of a defenceless dog is unforgivable.