A short Honeymoon

  • 30 November 1983
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Mark Brennock reports on the riots in Mountjoy and on the subsequent Garda regime in the prison.

From early morning on Saturday 5 November it was obvious that there was going to be trouble. Prisoners had been denied recreation during the day, others were denied visits. As the Prison Officers sat out in the visiting box having a meeting, more and more Gardai began to appear in the prison. When the Prison Officers finally left the prison, they left the gates leading from the central circle to the four wings open, thus allowing a free flow of movement between the wings. No one told the Gardai, who were now running the prison that this wasn't normal.

For prisoners to gain control of the prison, they must get on to the third floor of 'A' wing. From there they can get on to the balcony around the circle, and throw bricks and iron bars down at the people below, forcing the Prison Officers or Gardai to leave. Then they can barricade the doors. This is what happened during the last major riot in the prison.

The Gardai were on the third floor of 'A' wing since the morning. They weren't taking any chances.

The first outbreak of trouble was in '0' wing. The prisoners there had been denied recreation and there was confusion among the Gardai as to whether or not they should receive mits. In the late afternoon some teleevisions and video recorders were smashed. The prisoners were promised extra recreation between seven o'clock zad nine and the trouble ended.

The 'A' wing prisoners sat in their recreation room from six in the evenn::rg. Some were watching the television, others were playing billiards or chess. A few senior prison officers had reezaained in the prison. One of these s.ood near the door beside the alarm bell. Both sides were getting ready.

Suddenly, at 8.15, a billiard ball went through the television screen. The prison officer hit the alarm and left. Prisoners broke the small amount of furniture that was in the room and set fire to the mail bags and mats that they work on during the day. Within a short amount of time the air was thick with smoke. Some prisoners decided to leave.

When you open the door of the 'A' wing recreation room you are facing up the long, twenty-feet-wide corridor that leads to the circle. A line of" Gardai from one side of the corridor to the other was advancing slowly down towards the recreation room beating their batons against their riot shields. One prisoner walked up to them and said that he wanted to go back to his cell. He was allowed through, and several others followed. This time the gate to the circle was locked.

No one is sure who hit who first. Contrary to the media reports at the time there weren't any tools missing from the 'A' wing workshops. It was also said in the press that thirty Gardai and forty prisoners were innjured in the riots. A recently released prisoner claims that only two Gardai and twelve prisoners were injured. One of the injured prisoners, James Rock, has asked for medical attention because he is passing blood. He has not got it. One prison officer has accused him of swallowing razor blades.

There was something different about the food the day after the riot. It was freshly prepared and it was hot. It hadn't been like this before, and it would continue to be like this for the next two weeks.

Two days after the riot the prisoners were given free tobacco. Sweets and tobacco were given out at various times during the Garda stay in the prison. The visiting rules were relaxed and prisoners were allowed to receive several visits during the week instead of the usual one. This may have been a policy decision bythe Gardai, it may be that the Gardai didn't know the rules.

There was a different atmosphere in the prison during the Garda regime. According to one prisoner in 'A' wing "the cops were very civil, They treated you like you were a human being. They talked to us, they asked us if we wanted newspapers before we were locked up for our meals. They were civil."

When prisoners were woken up in the morning they got a pleasant "good morning. It's time to get up now". According to the' prisoners the prison officers bang on their doors and shout at them.

In the women's prison the lock up time was often extended way beyond the normal 7.30pm. The Ban Ghardai sat up with the inmates and talked with them. They allowed them to swop cells so that they could stay with their friends.

Many prisoners shook hands with the Gardai as they were leaving Mounttjoy on November 18.

On Saturday the food was cold.

The prisoners in 'A' wing have signed a petition to the governor complaining about it. For the first few hours the prison went very quiet. The prisoners had decided that they wouldn't cause any trouble when the prison officers came back.

Mountjoy has returned to normal .•