Diary - Nov 10, 1983: Trouble In Mountjoy, Portlaoise, Ben Briscoe and Dublin Waxworks

  • 9 November 1983
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ON SATURDAY 5 NOVEMBER at 2.00pm the prison officers in Mountjoy met in the visiting box, which is just inside the main gate. The meeting was interrupted by the acting prison governor who addressed the meeting and told the prison officers that if they were not willing to go back to work they were to leave. At 7.30pm, when the day shift ended, the last of the prison officers left the prison. The prison was now being run by Gardai.

The first trouble started in D-wing at six o'clock. DDwing is where first time and long term prisoners are held. The prisoners staged a sittdown protest at the Garda presence. Several items of furniture were smashed.

At eight o'clock, half an hour after the prisoners are usually locked up for the night, there was a disturbance in A-wing, the wing for prisoners who have already served a 'sentence. One source in the prison says that the trouble started when a Garda drew his baton, but this has not been confirmed. In the general melee a workshop was set on fire; several mattresses were also set on fire. The trouble went on until eleven o 'Clock when Garda reinforceements arrived. Forty prisoners and thirty Gardai were innjured. According to one source, some prisoners barriicaded themselves into their cells and it was thus imposssible for the authorities to discover if some prisoners were missing or not.

When the prison officers learned that a riot had started in the prison they contacted the Department of Justice and said that they were willing to return to work. This offer was accepted and

the representatives of the prison officers and the Departtment of Justice were in connstant contact over the next two hours. Three hundred prison officers arrived at the gates of Mountjoy at nine o'clock that night.

They were told to hold on and were left at the gate for some time. The army was in the prison as well as the gardai. The prison officers were told by a superintenndent of the Gardai who was at the gate that they could not enter the prison as there were already two forces innside and he didn't want a third.


THERE WAS A RIOT IN Portlaoise on Sunday 30 October. The prisoners in Portlaoise believe that the level of harassment and petty vindictiveness has increased considerably of late. Strip searches occur at random, usually in the morning before the prisoners get up. The prisoner is often asked to dress first and then asked to strip. As the authorities are aware, the prisoners have decided to resist strip searches. So the warders have to force the prisoners to strip, which generally involves violence and is often followed by solitary confinement.

On Sunday 30 October the other prisoners protested when the warders decided to strip search two prisoners. The warders then decided that they would strip search all of the prisoners and when they had done this they returned to the first two prisoners and strip searched them again.

Harassment of prisoners is also increasing in the matter of shoes. Prisoners who leave the prison for a court appearrance cannot wear their shoes back into the prison and thus are forced to abandon each pair of shoes they wear outtside the prison. Recently prisoners have been appearing barefoot outside the prison.

Visitors can only see prisooners through a double wire fence with semi-opaque glass. Prisoners are thus deprived of any opportunity of physical contact with their families. For prisoners with young families who are serving long sentences this is particularly severe. In Long Kesh, for example, there are cubicles where prisoners can meet their families with just a table between them. The authorities ensure prison security by a thorough search of families before the visit and prisoners afterwards.

Families of prisoners also complain that they are being kept waiting for long periods when they go to Portlaoise to visit. They say this has happened increasingly in the recent past.

There is particular concern about Mick Kinsella from Clones who is serving a life sentence for the murder of Billy Fox. He regularly has to be taken to Dundrum for treatment and both his family and fellow prisoners say that he should be moved to a mental hospital on a permaanent basis. Requests to the Department of Justice to connsider this have been ignored.

Fly With Frank

DErnCATED FOLLOWERS of the career of Mr Frank Cluskey, former leader of the Labour Party and now Minisster for Trade, Commerce and Tourism, will be glad to hear that Frank arrived in Baghdad early in the morning of Monnday 7 November. Another trip for Frank. As his former colleague Dr John O'Connell once said: "Frank goes rigid with excitement when he gets within a mile of an airport."

Paddle Your Own

AND THEN THERE'S BEN Briscoe. When he was visited by a delegation of whining students on Thursday 27 Occtober he was able to tell it like it is. He was able to look them straight and he was able to talk straight. You needn't talk to him about hardship, he said. He knew about hardship. And he knew about sacrifice. "I haven't had an increase in four years," he said.

Four years. Did he say four years? He sure did.

It is hard to live on a deputy's salary, said Ben. His children like canoeing, he told the whining students. They want new canoes like their friends. Their friends have new canoes. And Ben can't afford them on a deputy's salary.

When the students saw Barry Desmond he boasted that he had just got 140 jobs for nurses. He looked at the students and then he paused. "In Baghdad," he said, and laughed. "I hope they stay alive," he continued. (Could this have anything to do with Frank Cluskey being in Baghdad? Any of you nurses out there seen a tall, bearded, rigid-looking man?) Barry went on to talk about his admiration for the Chinese system of education and training where there was just one system for millions of people whereas here we have the VEC, YEA, AnCO and all the rest. He went on to say that he was tempted by Maoism.

Hire Purchase

One morning at the beginning of October Michael Sheerin, a TV engineer, wsa visited by a man who said that a car with Sheerins' registration number had bumped into his car the previous night in the city centre. Michael Sheerin wasn't there, but his wife told the man that they had not been in the city centre for some weeks and had certainly not crashed into anyone the preevious night. She told the man where her husband worked and how he could contact him if he wanted to inspect their car for any sign of damage.

Two weeks later, on Thurssday 20 October Michael Sheerin finished work and walked to the secluded car park where he usually leaves his Volvo. The car was gone and after a fruitless search he reported it stolen to nearrby Kill 0' The Grange Garda station. The next week was spent searching for the car, but to no avail.

On Wednesday 26 Michael received a phone call from a finance company who asked if the Gardai had been in touch with him about a Volvo car. They told him that £1,470 was owing to them on the car and they had seized it in lieu of payyment. An astonished Michael Sheerin told them that he had paid £2,400 in cash for the car 16 months previously. He said that he still had the receipt and had never had any dealings with a finance commpany.

He asked for his car back and was told that he could not have it unless he paid up £1,470.

He went back to the garage where he had bought the car. After two days delay while the garage owner checked his records the folllowing story emerged: This garage owner had bought the car from a dealer. The dealer had bought the car on hire purchase and then immediateely sold it to the garage owner. When the garage owner made a routine check to see if there was any outstanding hire purrchase liability on the car, he was informed that the car was clean. This was because the dealer's application for hire purchase had not had time to be entered on the file. So the garage owner, believing the car to be clean, sold it to Michael Sheerin.

The garage owner accepted his responsibility, paid off the finance house and the Sheerins got their car back.

At no time over 16 months did the finance company conntact the Sheerins to say that there -was any problem about the car ownership: had they done so the error could have been pointed out immediateely.

Michael Sheerin is angry about the affair. As far as he is concerned the finance commpany stole his car from him, he was left for two weeks without it and put to the trouble of consulting soliciitors, the insurance company and the garage owner. Perrsonal property, including his glasses, driving licence and insurance were taken with his car and no attempt was made to return these to him. He has not as yet received an apology from the finance company.

Dublin Waxworks

Joe Dolan looks twenty years younger and is reported to have spent half an hour admiring himself. Gay Byrne looks terrible and is going to be changed. Eamon de Valera looks like himself, very like himself So does the Pope, and so for that matter does the Ayatollah Khomeini. But Ronald Reagan as you can see from the photograph is all wrong. So is Padraig Pearse. Indeed most of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation look like wax figures, as do the twelve apostles. This may be because they are all wax figures in the National Wax Museum, open seven days a week in Granby Row off Parnell Square. The owners admit that all the wax figures are not as life-like as they should be, but promise they are working on them. Most of the Irish figures had a rubber substance poured on to their faces and the wax figure was made from that. The owners are full of the praises of one Ian Paisley for being so co-operative and so much fun. Incidentally, he doesn't look like himself at all. The rule seems to be that most thin-faced people can be waxed with immense authenticity, whereas broad-faced people pose difficulties. You should see Sean Lemass. One of the owners, all of whom hail from Mullingar and surrounding districts, is. Senator Donie Cassidy, who has a look of a wax figure himself with his pale face and his red hair. The owners dislike John Feeney and point out that what he wrote about the museum is untrue. There is a commentary for each glass case of figures and the entire narration takes 52 minutes.