NewsCrime Desk

Dissident inmates stage armed stand-off with staff in Portlaoise

Dissident Sharif Kelly was jailed last week
Dissident Sharif Kelly was jailed last week

PARAMILITARY inmates staged an armed stand-off with prison staff in a battle for control inside Ireland’s only high-security prison.

The incident unfolded last Sunday evening at Portlaoise Prison when dissident republicans on the E3 and E4 wings refused to return to their cells.

It comes as the number of terror-related prisoners has risen to 40 after a series of successful prosecutions this year.

The stand-off was sparked when inmates objected to plans to close down the isolation area in the E Block known as the ‘The Base’.

There were fears that dissidents on punishment could be sent to isolation cells on the prison’s A Wing, where gangland criminals like the Dundon brothers are detained.

Unlike other prisoners, inmates on the E landings adhere to a military style hierarchy and are not allowed to ‘fraternise’ with common criminals.

Each landing is run by an ‘Officer in Command’ who deals with the prison authorities on the inmates’ behalf.

Many of the E-Block cells are empty and are used as studios and workshops, which the prisoners have access to during the day.

During last week’s stand-off the paramilitary inmates moved into the recreation areas and armed themselves with makeshift weapons. The confrontation ended peacefully after a number of hours late on Sunday night, according to sources.

The stand-off comes after a series of arrests and successful prosecutions of people linked to the paramilitary factions.

Last week two dissident republicans, Sharif Kelly and Edward McGrath, were jailed for life for their roles in the murder of former Real IRA man Peter Butterly in March 2013.

In February, Patrick Brennan (53), was jailed for seven years after being caught with 1.6 kilos of explosives on a bus in Dublin’s city-centre.   

Another man, Donal Ó Coisdealbha (25), was recently sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison after being arrested on explosive charges in the lead up to the visit of Britain’s Prince Charles in 2015.

O Coisdealbha was arrested after Gardaí seized explosive devices, improvised rockets, detonators, timing units and Semtex,

Also recently sentenced is Darren Weldon (45), whose DNA was found on a number plate used in a car bomb attack at a Newry courthouse in 2010. 

He was jailed for four years after being convicted of being a member of an unlawful organisation styling itself on the Irish Republican Army.

In March, Cork man Martin McHale (53) got four-and-a-half years for IRA membership after being caught driving half a ton of fertiliser to Monaghan in November 2013.