Another three inmates have escaped from an open prison at the centre of controversy over the transfer of dangerous criminals.
The Irish Prison Service said the prisoners scaled a perimeter fence of Loughan House just outside Blacklion in Co Cavan on Tuesday evening. The three, all in their 20s and none in custody for murder or manslaughter, spent up to three hours on the run, criss-crossing the border, before being detained.
A spokesman for the Irish Prison Service said two of the inmates would be returned to Wheatfield prison and the other to St Patrick's Institution.
The escapes are the latest embarrassment for the Irish Prison Service over its operations at Loughan House after Martin McDermott, jailed for seven years last July for the manslaughter of Garda Gary McLoughlin in 2009 after ramming him with a car, fled from the unit in March just 12 days after being transferred.
The 26-year-old inmate was later arrested in Derry by the PSNI. It was the second time McDermott, who has a record listing 91 previous offences, had fled from Loughan House and prison chiefs were forced to apologise for the transfer.
The Irish Prison Service said the alarm was raised at 5.40pm when the three inmates climbed a fence and fled on foot over farmland outside Blacklion. Prison staff gave chase and local gardai were alerted.
"The prisoners went through the surrounding fields to cross the border. The Police Service of Northern Ireland were also notified. The prisoners were moving between both jurisdictions," the spokesman said.
It is understood dog handlers and a police helicopter in the north were used in the search operation. Two of the inmates are serving four-year sentences and the third is serving a three-year sentence. Northern Ireland Justice Minister David Ford said the successful capture of the three inmates showed the excellent cross-border policing links.
"Through their good policing, these three prisoners were quickly apprehended and returned to custody. Their response to this incident shows the high quality of policing that is being delivered by both the PSNI and the Garda in the border area," he said.
All three were back in Loughan House by about 8.45pm. The Irish Prison Service recorded 86 inmate escapes from open prisons last year, with most returning voluntarily days later. There have been at least 16 this year. All three prisoners were detained in the Republic, gardai and the Irish Prison Service later confirmed.