July-August 2024 13
By Michael Smith
In September 2023 Village documented the
experience of Seán O’Brien, a Prison Ocer in
Portlaoise in the 1980s, who stopped an IRA
prisoner’s attempt to avoid extradition, after he
was released from the prison in apparent
breach of then-Taoiseach Charles Haugheys
plans; and who was rewarded not with a medal
but with dismissal, collapsed mental health,
and an extraordinary succession of, ongoing,
frustrated attempts to expose the truth.
O’Brien alleged that the Deputy Prison
Governor, Ned Harkin, was a Provisional IRA
mole who had given explosives, guns, and keys
to the IRA and that Chief Prison Ocer Brian
Stack was about to expose Ned Harkin when he
was murdered by the IRA which shot him in the
neck outside the National Stadium in 1993.
Seán T and Hugh O’Brien
Seán O’Brien’s family has a deep-rooted
commitment to the Irish State. His father Seán
T O’ Brien was a Military Police Ocer stationed
at the gates of Custume Barracks in Athlone or
Connolly Barracks in Longford. His two nieces
are members of An Garda Síochána, with one
set to receive a bravery award.
This story is told by their father, Seán’s
brother, Hugh — also a Prison Ocer.
Seán is nearly shot and discovers the
extraordinary relationship of the Deputy
Governor of Portlaoise with the IRA
“I, like Seán, was on duty at Portlaoise Prison
during the period of the ‘Troubles/Dirty War.
One day in November 1985, I arrived at
Portlaoise Prison, the highest security prison in
the world at the time, at 7:55 am — after passing
as normal on his mornings through seven
security gates and doors, including a sta
search area.
That morning, I was to encounter a life-
changing event. IRA prisoner Peter Rogers, who
had previously killed Garda Detective Séamus
Quaid (42) in 1980 following a bank robbery in
Co Kilkenny, threatened my life with a loaded
A mass was due to be said in Portlaoise’s E3
recreation hall at 11:30 am and my job was to
guard the civilians involved. Around 11:40 am,
shouting erupted near the recreation hall gate,
prompting guards, prison officers, and
prisoners to rush from the mass to see what was
happening on the E3 landing.
Prison Ocer Ollie Carroll was standing on
the E3 landing bridge; his eyes were red and
watery, and he seemed to be under a lot of
stress. Prisoners had chucked a chemical liquid
in his face.
He was dizzy and in pain, as he made his way
down the E3 stairs to E2, where prisoner Rogers
pointed a gun at him and shouted for him to “get
back up here” and not to go down.
Prisoner Rogers had his hair cut short and
was dressed in imitation Garda or prison
ocer’s uniform and buttons on a made-up
uniform covered in silver paper from a chocolate
bar. I was shocked that the prison authorities
allowed him access to all these materials,
especially black fabric.
IRA prisoner Peadar Devine was standing
outside the stairgate with a chair in his hands
along with IRA prisoner Peter Sugrue, to prevent
prison ocers from approaching. Rogers was
prominent with a small handgun in his left hand.
He was pointing the gun at prison staff.
Shouting was very audible with the blood-
curdling words, “Keep back, or we blow your
heads o ”.
At this stage, Rogers pointed the gun at me,
JJ McEvoy, and Prison Ocer Paddy Powell.
It was very noticeable that prisoner Rogers
had the intention to use this firearm:; from my
vantage point, I could see his lifted index finger
on the trigger with the gun cocked for use.
However, at this stage, Prison Ocer Powell
called me over to him and gave me the order to
go and get Prison Ocer Paddy (Gunner) Brady.
At this stage, all of a sudden, Prisoner Rogers
said to me in a loud voice, “Get back, your
bastard, or I’ll blow your head o. When I
moved to carry out Prison Ocer Powell’s order,
prisoner Rogers pulled the trigger several times
and pointed the gun at my upper and lower body
as he tried to shoot me. About to be shot, I was
mortally terrified, as I was fully aware of this
prisoner’s history.
The gun that Rogers attempted to fire multiple
times was loaded with bullets of the incorrect
size for its chamber, and it failed each time.
In response to this issue, the IRA was to
develop a method of using Sellotape to modify
the bullets, enabling them to fit into the
The IRA implemented this practice, fully
aware that Prisoner Rogers would encounter
diculty using the firearm.
Had the proper size bullets been in the gun, I
along with other prisoners would probably been
After we had been held for an hour at gunpoint
by prisoner Rogers, fellow IRA prisoner Tommy
McMahon entered the E2 landing stairs gate
along with Deputy Governor Ned (Edward)
Harkins, where they encountered Rogers in an
agitated state, still holding back prison ocers
with his handgun. I recall prisoner McMahon
frantic and moaning “its over; didn’t get out.
On hearing this Prisoner Rogers reluctantly
handed over the handgun to Prisoner McMahon
who then in turn handed it to Deputy Governor
What shattered my understanding of what
was going on in Portlaoise was that suddenly
and without warning unbelievably Harkins
handed the loaded handgun to Prisoner
McMahon saying “break down that gun,
Tommy. Clearly, there was more to Harkins’
involvement in the escape attempt.
This attempted shooting incident aects my
health to the present day.
A few days later I was requested to go to
Deputy Governor Harkins’ oce. As I entered
the oce I noticed that Chief Ocer John
Keaveney was in attendance. Their conversation
immediately started with small talk and a chat
on how well I was doing in my job then it turned
to the disturbance and how we “really showed
them who was in charge” and how one ocer
went out of his way to lay a heavy hand into the
prisoners, the ocer being named as Pascal
McEvoy. Keaveney claimed I had witnessed this
and showed me a typed statement describing
Hugh O’Brien: Another
Prison Officer abused
by the Prison Services
Sen T O’Brien Militry Police
Officer, fther to Sen nd Hugh
Hugh in uniform t the time of the
trouble with his dughter Croline who is
receiving  brvery wrd s  Grd
14 July-August 2024
McEvoy alleged role. I was requested to sign it.
however I refused to, and both McEvoy and
Harkin became very agitated, threatening me
with dismissal stating I would “have to leave my
uniform at the gate” if I didn’t sign. When I
insisted on not signing any forms I was told to
leave the oce and that I would be dealt with
later. I was subsequently dismissed.
IRA leader Kevin Mallon was running
Portlaoise Prison
Ocer O’Brien was on duty on the end of
E-Block on E-3, landing with Prison Ocer
Séamus (Shamey) Foy. This is a post no Prison
Ocer wanted as it was a “slopping out area”
[where Prisoners empty pisspots and excrement
from the night before into the toilet]. It was foul
and degrading.
The minute I look at Prisoner Tommy
McMahon with his healthy black hair. You knew
there was something dierent. This wasn’t the
guy who had killed Lord Mountbatten. He
wasn’t an IRA man as I knew them. You could
tell straight away there was a considerable
dierence because the IRA I knew commanded
respect and operated a chain of command. On
each landing of the Prison there was an ocer
commanding,”OC, who was in charge. In fact
no prisoner ever communicated with Prison
Ocers instead messages went through the
OC. Prisoner McMahon was approaching the
toilet area with a full pisspot in his hand when
the next I heard was a boom coming from the
top of Ocer Foys hat, and within a few
seconds, a coat was thrown over my head and I
was dragged down to the ground. I was hoping
an alarm would go o; I had a radio and I was
trying to hit the alarm. “There were boots
kicking me”. next thing there was a shout, “Hey,
hey, hey, hey, what’s going on here”? Next thing
Prisoner Kevin Mallon lifted me up and asked
me “What’s going on here?. Kevin Mallon had
escaped from Mountjoy Prison in a helicopter in
1973. He was recaptured two months later
when Prison Ocer Paddy Dunne identified him
in the Montague Hotel.
I said to Mallon, “I’ll tell you what happened,
that fucking Mahon there is after attacking me.
With that you could see the hierarchy starting
to register. Mallon began to give a few orders.
Tommy McMahon was belittled in front of the
crowd around him. where he was known as the
man who had murdered Lord Mountbatten, and
within a few seconds, he was gone down to a
little mouse What Mallon did was something I
had never seen in my life, but I actually
witnessed. He asked me what happened and
asked another IRA Prisoner here and another
one there who both verified my version of
events, and the next thing he did was clean the
hat and said “I am sorry about that. We will take
care of it. He caught Tommy McMahon and
turned him around quick as he could, he hit him
a boot in the arse “You get back to your fucking
cell. We run it in here; you don’t. We don’t want
your structure in here, McMahon. We’re fucking
running it.
Dangers of being a Prison Oicer
The IRA obtained my personal details, including
family information, from Superintendent Frank
Glackin. Most Prison Officers on duty in
Portlaoise Prison also had their family details
given to the IRA. Having your personal
information handed over to the IRA, who were
killing Prison Ocers in Northern Ireland just
three hours away, was a traumatic experience.
It led to prison ocers self-medicating with
alcohol and struggling for the rest of their lives
despite a “duty of care” under the 1956
regulation on behalf of the Department of
Justice (DOJ).
Department of Justice negligence on Prison
Ocers’ health
I contracted pancreatic cancer, I believe as a
result of my time working in the Portlaoise
boilerhouse, being exposed to asbestos
residue and dust.
The Department of Justice failed to conduct
any tests or take preventive measures to protect
the health of the population of Portlaoise Prison
or indeed of locals. This negligence led to the
development, I believe, of asbestos poisoning
among sta and prisoners.
I worked as a trades ocer. White asbestos
powder was regularly on our uniform. Ocer
Mick Lewis, some ocers and I complained to
Chief Trades Ocer Tony Kilkenny about this
white power. He told us that Prison Governor Bill
Reilly had confirmed that the Department of
Justice stated there was no danger from the
white powder.
I also made an ocial complaint on a half
sheet through Governor Bill Reilly to the
Department of Justice, concerning his health
Complaints to the Prison Ocers Association
at the local level were disregarded as the POA
was only a mouthpiece for the DOJ. The Boiler
House in Portlaoise Prison was underground
with two large steam boilers that would burn
tractor-trailer loads of turf. The boiler house was
an extremely dusty environment. It had two
electric-driven ram-air jet systems that forced
air through the boilers in a ‘Venturi’ out into the
surrounding areas of Portlaoise town through
an oversized chimney stack. This ram-air
contained white asbestos powder that certainly
contaminated the air. The exposure of this
polluting substance endangered the health of
the local population, potentially causing death
in some circumstances.
Complaints to the Prison Ocers Association
at the local level were disregarded as it was only
a mouthpiece for the Department of Justice.
[As recorded in a conversation with Seán
O’Brien on Hugh O’Brien’s deathbed in Midland
Hospital in Tullamore, on 16 March 2024, and
in supporting backup including complaints]
He asked for all this to be reported by Village
On 26 March 2024 Hugh O’Brien passed
Hughie’s ffidvit, from lst yer


Back to Top