A six-week dirty protest at Portlaoise prison came to an end last Friday afternoon as the eight Real IRA prisoners involved ended their demonstration.

The most high-profile of the prisoners involved was Bernard Dempsey. The one-time Provisional IRA boss in Dublin's south inner city was convicted in 2006 of murdering former kick boxing champion James Curran in a city pub.

The prisoners began their protest because periods of temporary release had been withdrawn by justice minister Dermot Ahern following the Real IRA murders of two British soldiers outside a barracks in Co Antrim in March.

Prison sources say the inmates were unhappy that they had been confined to their cells as a result of their protest. Prison officers had to enter their cells only to give the men their meals.

Meanwhile, the C block at Portlaoise prison, with a capacity for 144 inmates, will be reading for occupation "within weeks". It is to replace the D block, which prisoner visiting committees have described as totally unsuitable for housing prisoners; staff working conditions are also very poor.

In 2007, then justice minister Brian Lenihan stated that the new block would be "completed and will be ready for occupation in March to April of 2008".

An extension at Castlerea prison to house 150 inmates is due to open in the coming weeks and a new cell block at Wheatfield that will house 274 prisoners is expected to be ready by September.