Prison Service chief apologises for Martin McDermott transfer decision

Friday 30 March 2012 11.31
Martin McDermott was transferred to Loughan House earlier this month
Martin McDermott was transferred to Loughan House earlier this month

The Director General of the Prison Service has apologised for the incident in which a convicted garda killer, who met the criteria for the transfer to an open prison, escaped from that prison.

Addressing the Oireachtas Justice Committee, Michael Donnellan said measures had been taken to provide additional oversight to ensure such an incident is not repeated.

He admitted that the decision to transfer Martin McDermott in March this year to Loughan House open prison in Co Cavan was completely wrong in the circumstances.

A report into McDermott’s escape published last night revealed that he had escaped from the same prison a number of years earlier.

Mr Donnellan confirmed that the fact that McDermott had escaped from Loughan House previously was known to those who decided that he be transferred there.

The GRA has criticised the assessment by Midlands Prison staff that McDermott met the criteria for the transfer to an open prison.

Speaking on RTE’s Morning Ireland, Garda Representative Association President Damien McCarthy said he was distressed and angered by the incident.

Both the Irish Prison Service and Minister for Justice Alan Shatter have acknowledged that the transfer of McDermott to Loughan House was a mistake.

They have both said measures have been put in place to ensure it does not happen again.

At the time of his escape last month, McDermott had served nearly two-and-a-half years of a seven-year sentence for killing Garda Gary McLoughlin in a car crash in Co Donegal.

On 15 March he walked out of the open prison and across the nearby border into Northern Ireland.

McDermott was recaptured by the PSNI several days later and is currently serving a sentence there for assaulting a police officer.

It also emerged in the reports that while Portlaoise, Mountjoy and Cork prisoners were overcrowded, Loughan House had a lot of spare capacity, which was also a factor in the decision to transfer McDermott.

Mr Donnellan also told the committee that 19 prisoners who absconded from open prisons last year are still at large.

He said they are being actively pursued and said none of those who are on the run have been convicted of murder or manslaughter.

Mr Donnellan said there is one case where a prisoner escaped from an open prison in 1995 and is still on the run.

Regarding 2011, he said 86 prisoners absconded in total and 67 had returned.

He also said the family of Garda McLoughlin were not informed that McDermott was to be transferred to the open prison and he apologised for it.