Governor: Prisoners not allowed keep birds

THE governor of Portlaoise Prison has denied claims by convicted drug criminal John Gilligan that he allowed high-security prisoners to keep budgies and fridges in their cells.

Portlaoise District Court heard yesterday that inmates on the prison’s E1 landing were permitted to keep such items as pet birds and fridges.

Gilligan alleged that the prison governor had allowed 16 budgies and other birds, including a cockatoo and parrot, to be housed on the high-security wing of the facility in February 2007. He also said prisoners were allowed to keep fridges in their cells as well as plasma TVs.

However, governor Edward Whelan said such items were not allowed to be kept by prisoners.

The accusation arose during Gilligan’s trial for the unlawful possession of a mobile phone and a SIM card in his cell at Portlaoise Prison on July 30, 2008.

The court heard at a previous sitting that a search of Gilligan’s cell on that date uncovered a Nokia mobile phone, a SIM card, a phone charger, tablets and two pairs of women’s underwear.

Under the Prisons Act 2007, anyone convicted of unlawfully having a phone in prison can face a maximum sentence of 12 months or a fine of €5,000 or both for cases heard at District Court level.

Gilligan is serving a 20-year prison sentence for drug-related offences plus another two-year term to run consecutively for a conviction for threatening to kill two prisoner officers.

Mr Whelan said he was appointed governor of Portlaoise Prison in February 2007 but did not formally take up the position until April 30, 2007, as he was also in charge of another prison. He acknowledged that a previous governor may have allowed inmates to keep fridges.

The governor said he had ordered a security review in early May 2007 which had resulted in an instruction for all such articles to be removed from prisoners’ cells.

The court also heard that there was a continuous stream of traffic from a mobile phone found in the defendant’s cell.

Meteor executive Maureen King gave evidence of a series of calls and text messages on July 29, 2008, from the Nokia handset discovered in Gilligan’s cell on the following day.

There was a heavy security presence for Gilligan’s court appearance yesterday, with armed soldiers patrolling streets in the vicinity of the courthouse in Portlaoise.

Judge Haughton adjourned the case until March 11.

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