Portlaoise Prison staff call for review after PSNI shooting ‘ordered from behind bars’

Portlaoise warders seek security review of dissident inmates following detective’s shooting

Kevin Braney (inset) and Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell

John Caldwell

Patrick O'ConnellSunday World

PRISON officers in Portlaoise are seeking a review of security arrangements for dissident inmates following the shooting of PSNI officer John Caldwell, a source has said.

Officers in the State’s only top security prison are said to extremely concerned by reports the New IRA linked shooting may have been sanctioned from behind bars – north or south of the border.

Detective Chief Inspector Caldwell was shot several times in Omagh last month and is still critically ill in hospital.

Police in the north have made a number of arrests.

Portlaoise is home to 12 dissident inmates, including Kevin Braney – the reputed leader of the ‘New IRA’ in Dublin.

Braney, from Tallaght, is serving a life sentence for the murder of dissident republican Peter Butterley.

During the 48-year-old’s trial, Braney was “said in effect to have been the man who gave the orders”.

The Sunday Worldunderstands there is nothing to indicate to prison authorities that Braney had any role in organising or sanctioning the Caldwell hit.

The source said: “The reports (claiming the attempted murder of John Caldwell was organised from behind bars) are concerning,” the source said.

“Officers believe the security restrictions currently in place for the dissident inmates would not be sufficient to prevent something like this from being organised within the prison.”

The areas of the security arrangements for dissident inmates said to be causing concern to officers include screening of visitors, external phone-calls and cell inspections on the E1 landing.

The source said the local branch of the Prison Officers Association (POA) had sought a meeting with prison authorities to discuss these concerns.

In a statement to the Sunday World, the POA declined to comment. The Irish Prison Service also said it “does not comment on security or operational matters.”

The PSNI repeated this week, that the New IRA are believed to be responsible for the gun attack.

In remarks to the Northern Ireland Policing Board, after being questioned over the possibility of loyalist involvement in the attack, PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan said the New IRA remain the primary focus..​

Sinn Féin board member Gerry Kelly asked Mr McEwan for an update saying there it had been a “bit confusing” as there had been reports of arrests across the community.

He said it was believed that four of the people who had been arrested were from a loyalist background and asked if there was a loyalist connection to the shooting.

In reply, Mr. McEwan said: “We are very clear that this is still assessed as being an attack carried out by the New IRA and that is where the primary focus of the investigation is.”

Mr McEwan said people should not get “confused” with titles such as loyalism.

“We still assess that this has been an attack carried out by the New IRA who have very explicitly stated that they wish to carry out attacks on police officers and John has been the target on this occasion.”

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