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Prison Governors: Why the inhumanity? Why the Block in Cork? Do we tolerate the Birch in Ireland

category international | rights, freedoms and repression | opinion/analysis author Friday November 17, 2006 21:08author by Kevin T. Walsh - Social Justice; Ethics, Inclusion Report this post to the editors

Since when? I thought Never.....What about 3 R's?


Open Letter to: Governor John Lonergan.

Mr. Lonergan,

You became Governor of Mountjoy Prison in the 1983. You replaced Paddy McFadden from Belmullet in Co. Mayo. McFadden according to sources in the Department of Justice was given 6 hours notice that he was going to be replaced by a handpicked person – yourself John. It is alleged you come from Banshee, Co. Tipperary. You are a former bus conductor. You have a passion for hurling and your known to have the odd flutter on ‘Shergar’.

In the last number of years you have become the most high profile Governor – thanks to media and TV appearances.


have been in Simon 17 years. On behalf of the homeless prisoners and some ex-screws that you personally sacked for taking too much sick leave (and who became alcoholics) and homeless. There also were at that time in the `1980’s a number of staff suicides due to stress and compulsive overtime occurred. Some of the people I met on the street told me about the abuse they received under Lonergan’s Regime at that time. They said they could hear the screams at night from the basement of Mountjoy Prison from people being kicked and assaulted. You see John – we don’t just have a serious Garda corruption issue but we have a problem in the prison service also.

You appear on the TV to pass off well and as a humanitarian but John it is only a perception and I will detail the reasons why:

You speak of the inner city and that over 60% of prisoners at Mountjoy come from there. You are now 23 years the Governor in Mountjoy but what really is your record on the word Humanitarian. You mention no resources – no infrastructure – yet you close down workshops. For a brief period you left, and went to Portlaoise Prison as Governor. I am sure you witnessed the strip searching and abuse that was practiced there. You have spoken on radio, TV and many papers, newspapers, conferences etc. but I am asking you John – Who are you? With the time you have had as Governor you really could have made a contribution to the lives of some young people through rehabilitation practices.

In 1990 John, I am sure you remember, a Roscommon lad was on report by a prison officer. This lad was given 2 years for an assault on his neighbour. It is reported by some decent staff in Mountjoy that you sent him to Cork – to the Block, and had him incarcerated for 6 months in his boxer shorts in Solitary Confinement. Some staff, whom I have spoken, and who devote time to Simon, say never cross Lonergan – he holds a grudge for life and this goes for prisoners and staff – some say as many as 90% of staff have no respect for you Governor – now why is that?

I have tried on contact you on a number of occasions – but you have refused. The perception of being humane, John baffles me – because the truth is so often hidden. You have major input to the Department of Justice re. Promotions? I ask why is this so?

I walk the streets of Sean McDermott Street and Summerhill at least twice a week. I witness overt poverty, alcohol abuse and of course ‘Drugs’. You joined the prison service in 1963 and began in Limerick – that is almost 40 years ago John. What is your legacy really? Is it your appearance on TV as a male version of Mother Theresa as one male prisoner put it - really the version is that you are a little Hitler? Yes, I am being critical. Simon thought me a lot about people, poverty and most of all about lack of humanity

The POA fought long and hard to stop McDowell ending their massive overtime bill (some Euros 75 m p.a).

John – the European Union funding; particularly back to education grants etc. provided you with opportunities that earlier governors never had. What has been done for the rehabilitation of offenders in Mountjoy, and more importantly, perhaps you can state the successful outcomes. These disadvantaged background programmes now yield a considerable number of people in Law, BESS, Social Work – from deprived areas like Fatima Mansions, Pearse Street, Ballymun to name but a fiew……

What about the 3 R’s? Ireland has an unreasonably high proportion of people who cannot read or write. No doubt you have the figures who enter prison without the skills and if so, it is pure negligence not to encourage prisoners to attend structured classes. We have leading academics in Ireland from England and other countries. Professor Robertson (Psychology - Trinity) is one of the these exceptional people. I presume you have heard of NALA (Literacy) no doubt funded by EU but it is his research team that has progressed this method of teaching life skills, reading and writing.

Free of charge – the book provided is comprehensive (it is also suitable for those who lose abilities due to head injury etc…..) This data is on the web and more importantly it is on the TV. Note – the research of the Team, Trinity and other sources, works on the visual part of the memory and with techniques like the Association (visit Zoo). A far cry from school!!!

Education is about empowerment. As I heard someone say – possibly Howard Kilroy Silk on an interview panel. Punishment is about the crime. Anything in excess is not acceptable. Lord Archers new book ‘A cat with 5 tales’. No doubt you have read it……..What inspiration and hope? Lord Archer shared his cell……with many an infamous character. As Archer said himself – some of them would have made great governors – they had compassion. You see John – I don’t condemn any crime against the citizen but I will not endorse any breach of basic Human Rights.

Ironically in the last couple of months, I have not heard a word from you in relation to that young man (child) murdered in a six man cell. In my opinion the five others were spineless to let it happen but then John fear is a strange thing. You see John there are beatings daily in Irish prisons but like the Industrial Schools of yore the secrecy and denial pervades. What every changes in Ireland? Prisoners I have met also in hostels and homeless. They mention a Governor Scannell in Castlerea who they refer to as a complete gentleman. Yet – he gets no TV appearances or Radio.

You are John the complete monopoly of the Irish prison service. I ask why? Some months ago on Questions and Answers two members in the audience (later I found out were prison staff) asked the question – Isn’t time for a change in Mountjoy prison – they were referring to you John. I can’t understand the various Government agencies around Ireland not opening their eyes about you John and raising some serious questions. Again I will end by asking:

Why do you send young men to Cork – to the Block – and for punishment. They are away from their families, their children….. I would plead with Joe Duffy, Pat Kenny, Prime Time to research the Block in Cork i.e. punishment block. Some of the homeless people I have met refer to it as the Irish Guantanomo Bay…….

Paedophiles on other hand tend to get a cosy cell in Arbour Hill and a TV. Ray Burke shared a prison with some of them.

Why is there a punishment block within the Irish prison system.? Where is the legislation that covers this. I have spoken to young men who have been confined to this Block – their underpants and a Bible. Fr. Michael Kidney is the prison chaplain in Cork prison – he may be a cousin of a Munster rugby coach but who gives a shit John. This priest has never condemned the conditions nor his Church of this prison block.

The Catholic Church most complex network linking from Maynooth to All Hallows and onwards………please consider the conditions of young offenders being treated in a most inhumane way….

People John say that you may be going forward for Election for Fine Gael. Personally, I dread the thought of someone like you going forward to Minister for Justice. It would reek of the 1980’s and Sean Doherty i.e. transition Garda to Minister for Justice.

In my research of 11 years, what intrigues me most – how you skillfully sold RTE the illusion of the John Lonergan that does not exist. I condemn all crimes against people. I realize governors have a very responsible job but why are you the only governor that gets the limelight of media Some prisoners I have spoken to on the streets said like Bertie – you are the most devious of them all. I applaud Judge Kinlan – I hope he reads my letter and investigates the block in Cork. You see John – to be kind is to understand not to bluff as you and others so successfully do!

K.T. Walsh

Some quotations to dwell upon
'We had the experience but we missed the meaning....' T.S. Eliott

'What we do not understand we do not possess'

‘I live as if I am going to die tomorrow and I learn as if I am going to learn for the rest of your life’

Bernard Shaw
'If you teach a man anything, he will never learn, Learning is an Active Process........' (now we promote life long learning for all....

'Never waste time thinking about peoiple you don't like'

Diversity John is the same as Gandhi's saying 'To see the change in others, first see the change in yourself. - so that's why John I am so disilluioned - 24 years is too long.

author by Michelle Clarke - Social Justice and Ethicspublication date Sat Nov 18, 2006 14:18Report this post to the editors


I viewed this article last night but given the emotional content I printed it to re-read it in hard copy.

I know little about the prison system. I have no knowledge about the block in Cork and must admit to having regarded the Governor Mr. Lonergan in a rather different view than you.

On reading the article - I started to think about the all too many suicides in our prisons, the recent murder of a man while 5 inmates stood by as witnesses. Then I notice the many articles about the young Wheelock man' and the pressures placed on his family since his 'supposed' suicide and the 24 hour overhaul of his cell.....then I thought of the Morris Tribunal - The Barr Tribunal and John Carty. Then there is the all encompassing Mental Health horror and stigmatisation. Now mental health problems with the move to Thornton Hall of the Central Mental Hospital suggest that mental health and criminality are synomous!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I look to Enron in the US and I note prison sentences for those executives who basically caused the collapse of the bank through fraudulent practices and the Federal State Sentences of nearly 30 years for men near 60 years old.

What is wrong in Ireland? People engage in corruption and they manage to pay back-dated tax and a premium all brought about by the Tribunals that have cost the state some Euros 125 m. legal fees and are ongoing.

Corruption is corruption and is not acceptable. It is undermining our state and creating a state within a state ('Ioeb Republic Trinity Journal - circa months ago - most interesting few lines).

Kevin - Chris Murray is also writing up on this topic. I wonder what the Irish Council for Civil Liberties are doing or the Irish Penal Reform Trust. There appears to be a clear breach of Human Rights........


Michelle 'Every Exit is an entry to somewhere else' This is about hope............................Justice Ethics Equity

author by Michelle Clarke - Social Justice and Inclusionpublication date Sat Mar 03, 2007 00:08Report this post to the editors

I am surprised there have been no replies. I understand that it is probable the Irish Penal Reform Trust that keeps a watch over our prisons and administtration.

However, what concerns me is the policy of the Block or as you call it the punishment block.

This does not sount as if it is consistent with human rightds.

Mybe it ought to be raised with the Irish Human Rights Commission.

Michelle Clarke

author by paddoconnell - n/apublication date Tue May 06, 2008 20:02author email spirit at perlico dot netauthor address n/aauthor phone n/aReport this post to the editors

to quote the late judge philip o sullivan "the judiciary are not immune from criticism,roll on the judicial council"unquote.Neither are the governors of our prisons,thats why my posts on public inquiry should be brought to the attention of the author of story no.79742,under the following headings"whos watching the watchers"unanswered questions"be very afraid"whats new"also on indymedia under the heading "historical"on the peter preston site[outside berties drumcondra office]it will show concerned ireland is very selective in the people they deem as needing moral support.slan

author by The Scarpererpublication date Wed May 07, 2008 05:57Report this post to the editors

Michelle states: "I understand that it is probable the Irish Penal Reform Trust that keeps a watch over our prisons and administtration." That may be so.

Can anybody explain the difference of approach to prison matters between the IPRT and the former PRO, prisoners rights organisation, that agitated on prison issues more than twenty years ago? I remember Joe Costello, now a backbench Labour TD, was spokesman for the PRO. A certain Margaret Gaje (?) owner of a cheap eating place in Baggot Street was also active in this group.

author by Michelle Clarke - Social Justice and Ethicspublication date Wed Jul 16, 2008 00:11Report this post to the editors


Perhaps better late than never.

I do not recall the PRO of 20 years ago and Joe Costello. I have read K.T. Walsh's material on prison hostilities and through this arrived at the Irish Penal Reform Trust and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties. I get their monthly bulletins on the web.

Mountjoy and the 'riot' the other day, has brought to the fore our prison system and perhaps we should avail of the opportunity to establish a view of our prison system.

Personally, the overcrowding in prison cells is totally unacceptable. The idea of inproper sanitation conjures up questions of MRSA asnd other come the people in hospitals are so susceptible to the MRSA etc. infections and yet we hear nothing about prisons. Maybe someone knows a little more than me.

Suicides - what is being done in this regard for people who need medically assistance and perhaps psychological counselling. A man died last year in his prison cell. There were a number present yet the report of this horrific murder is languishing somewhere......why.

Thornton Hall......Prison Extraordinaire......on the outskirts of Dublin.....Can somebody please speak out as to why the Central Mental Hospital can be closed down (and no the funds from the sale no doubt used at the discretion of the Government) and that people suffering from mental illness can be sent there thereby actually criminalising them. The law of insanity is quite unique in its wording and stands for several hundred years.....

I believe we have to Give Peace a chance and to do this we need to give people a chance.

Excellence by Aristotle (384-322) BC Greek philosopher
'We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act BUT A HABIT'


Michelle Clarke

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author by Michelle Clarke - Social Justice and Ethicspublication date Tue Apr 07, 2009 16:41Report this post to the editors

As the budget is being read out at maximum speed by our Minister for Finance, I hope that we do not forget those who are vulnerable and deemed a high cost to society.

They say to keep a young person in Trinity House is over Euros 300,000. Yet, it is mooted that the Youth Education VEC be scrapped. This us crazy surely. If there were more paid advocates in communities we might able to guide young people to appropriate courses........This system has been positive to Ireland in the past with many successful people having had a VEC education. Remember,. jobs are being lost in the computer processing side because, the World Order, has moved Ireland into 'Knowledge Economy' era.

Knowledge as symbolised by the Salmon has been conquered many a time by people imprisoned for wrongdoing.

Life long learning is helped greatly by the Web. We need to focus on utilising the web where possible to access the information that helps us to make decisions.

We have heard on the news over the last few days of the extremely primitive standards in our mental health hospitals......what then is happening in our Prisons
The two P's are interchangeable but any way, we have a duty under the constitution to protect the vulnerable.

Restorative Justice is the only way to make reductions to imprisoning un-necessary sentences......who Judges!!!! is to be decided.

Is it appropriate to set up debtors courts without necssarily imprisoning. MABS exists and it works.......what we need is more integration.


author by Michelle Clarke - Social Justice and Ethics: Dignity publication date Sun Apr 12, 2009 18:09Report this post to the editors

A new dimension from from the EU and it is now time for the Irish people to review the matter.
It is proposed to give the franchise to people in prison. There will be a cap of 4 years.

Personally, I would welcome this. Likewise, I believe that young people should be entltled to vote from the age of 16.

1916 was a year of the Suffragettes and the vote for women and the vote for the Irish people so why not extend it. To vote is about participation in the affairs of thbe matter how small the contribution is......


author by Michelle Clarke - Social Justice and Ethics: Dignity publication date Sat Apr 25, 2009 18:41Report this post to the editors


Well written Mr. Myers. Indymedia has posted a similar expression of alarm, in the foregoing postings.

I agree with your comment about 'It being ther cognitive dissonance thing which is most puzzling in Irish society; you know, the difference between reality and perception thereof.

The article asks:

- where else in Europe is there a prison where four prisoners died violent or unnatural deaths, within a few months?
- where inspectors from the Council of Europe had found conditions DEGRADING.
- where prisoners eat alongside chamber pots (soiled and utilised)
- where there is gross overcrowding
- where heroin is on the supply increase side

Myers goes on to say 'But Lonergan, the governor of Mountjoy, is a much loved celebrity, and all of the above.....' ARE ON HIS WATCH.

Mr. Lonergan is called on to host many conferences - he hosted one at Ceifin in Co. Clare last October. Ironically the topic was about restoring family values in Society?... The following month Lonergan spoke at the regional conference of SIPTU, where he received a standing he denounced the practices of the Bank of Ireland.

An article in today's Irish Times, states that the idea of Super Prisons is most probably going to be sidelined in the UK. In the light of this, what is the real position re. Thornton Hall......a realistic bad debt for the proposed NAMA to make the most out of!!!!!!!..

The state has a duty of care, and the Governor as representative of the State, assumes a duty of care for our Prisons. In this context, we must ask about Gary Douche? Why was in a 6 man cell, in Mountjoy and not in the Central Mental Hospital. Gary Douche, hyperactive, short attention span young man - the Court revealed. The man who was convicted of murder but it was a reduced plea of insanity. The court case was brief according to RTE and all broadline media coverage. The question that is persistently asked is how this man was removed from the Central Mental hospital to a six man cell without his proper medications. Two top psychiatrists, without naming any blame, on radio and TV have asked some serious questions about the conditions in Mountjoy prison. It was said on the Pat Kenny show, that Mrs. Dooch has more answers than questions.

Mountjoy is a Victorian designed prison. The motivation for the 'Cell' was so that a person imprisoned was solo in the cell with the Bible. What has happened since the 1800's in Ireland? -chamber pots and not one person and a Bible but sometimes as many as six in a cell (one can assume no Bible). This should not be the case in the year 2009 and whoever precides as Governor ought to be held accountable.........

Mr. Herrick, Irish Penal Reform Trust and Gerry Carroll spoke about our prison rules and system on the Pat Kenny show last night. 50 years behind other countries like Australia, New Zealand, Mr. Herrick considered the Irish system to be, and Gerry Carroll agreed with him.

We the plain people of Ireland must alert ourselves to injustices in our penal system.

Michelle Clarke

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