Belfast Telegraph

Most armed escort requests rejected

Gardai are turning down six in every 10 requests by prison chiefs for armed escorts for dangerous criminals, newly released figures show.

Last year the Irish Prison Service headquarters asked for armed garda protection on 166 occasions when transporting inmates deemed a threat to the public or at risk of escape.

However, only 69 of the requests considered by the Garda Protection Office were granted.

The figures, which prison chiefs refused to disclose after a freedom of information request last month, have now been handed to Fianna Fail justice spokesman Niall Collins following a parliamentary question.

Mr Collins said it is "shocking" to think that so many violent prisoners are being transported through the streets without an armed guard.

"The requests for armed escorts are only made when the Prison Service believes that a convicted criminal is dangerous enough to attempt an escape or to pose a very serious threat to public safety," he said.

"It is completely unacceptable that only four out of every 10 requests could be filled last year."

Just weeks ago a notorious Scottish convict escaped from Portlaoise Prison while being taken to Tallaght Hospital for a medical appointment.

Two prison guards were stabbed as Glaswegian Derek Brockwell, 53, fled custody. He was later captured by police in Belfast and has since been transferred to England, where he had also escaped prison while serving a number of life sentences.

"This is clearly a resources issue," said Mr Collins.

"Garda resources have been slashed to the bone. Numbers in the force have fallen far below what the Government itself has admitted is a safe level."

A Garda spokesman said: "It is not the policy of An Garda Siochana to comment on matters relating to prison escorts for security and operations reasons."

A spokesman for the Irish Prison Service also said it does not comment on matters related to the security of prisons or staff.

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