The Director of the Irish Prison Service has said a new technology system will be introduced on a pilot basis in one prison to deal with the problem of drones bringing drugs into the jail.

Six drones have been seized in Irish prisons so far.

The Prison Officers' Association said 50 packages were smuggled into one Dublin prison in one week last month. The packages were smuggled in by drone and various methods.

Caron McCaffrey said the use of drones is a new phenomenon and the prison service is "on top of it," but it is an evolving area that is not unique to prisons.

The director also acknowledged that overcrowding was once again becoming a problem because of legislative and policy changes, and because there are now more gardaí and more criminals are being sent to prison.

Ms McCaffrey said that by the end of the year there would be 150 new spaces in the training centre in Mountjoy and another 100 spaces created in larger cells that could accommodate more inmates.

However, she insisted the Prison Service was not going to release dangerous inmates to make room for new arrivals.

Drug smuggling and gang violence in the country’s jails are the main issues of concern at the annual POA conference, which opened in Sligo today.

The association said that additional security measures are needed as more violent and senior feuding gang leaders are being convicted and jailed.

With 19 different gangland factions in Mountjoy Prison alone and eight others on one landing in the Midlands Prison, the POA said measures, such as a separate violence reduction unit in every closed prison, are needed.

The POA said its officers deal with all inmates in a professional manner, but that there is an assault on a staff member every week in Mountjoy.

It also said that there is a 20% increase in the number of prisoners on protection in Cloverhill prison.

The association said they were also promised a technical solution to deal with mobile phones in prison, but that was 14 years ago and the problem persists.

Overcrowding has also been highlighted at the conference, and the POA says that it is particularly bad in the Midlands Prison in Portlaoise, Cork Prison and the Dóchas Centre in Dublin and puts both staff and prisoners at unnecessary risk.

The association is also calling on management to implement smoke-free regulations in the prisons.

Prison officers are aggrieved about inmates smoking in other areas apart from the prison yard and cells, which are the designated areas.

They say the dangers from inmates smoking all over the prison is a health and welfare concern.