Garda, Army carry out training in case of prison officers’ strike

POA threatens industrial action in row over pay

 

Gardaí and members of the Defence Forces have undergone training to prepare them to work in prisons in the event prison officers take industrial action in a dispute over pay.

The training has extended to teams of gardaí and soldiers visiting every prison in the State in recent months to be shown how to perform essential tasks.

They have also conducted role-play scenarios at the military prison on the Curragh Camp in Co Kildare.

In March, the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) balloted 96 per cent in favour of taking industrial action, up to and including all-out strikes.

While the prison officers have since engaged with the Labour Relations Commission with a view to resolving their pay demands and avoiding striking, the contingency planning in the event a strike takes place have continued.

At the closing session of the POA’s annual conference in Dromoland, Co Clare, association president Stephen Delaney said industrial action would betaken if warranted.

“The priority now for the POA and the public service unions is to ensure the full restoration of pay cuts and restoring the overall living standards of prison officers and other public servants,” he said.

Contingency plans

Director general of the Irish Prison Service Michael Donnellan said it was imperative contingency plans continue to be advanced, saying any inaction in that regard would be reckless. “The POA took industrial action last September in Cloverhill by leaving work for an hour,” he said. “At the moment we are in a very difficult period because we’re in a period of change.”

The Prison Service had agreed with the union and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, as part of the Haddington Road agreement, to achieve savings of over €12 million.

“We’re still shy of over €3m of that and all we are trying to do is implement the agreement,” Mr Donnellan said. “That’s my job, that’s our job. I cannot run away. My pay and everyone else’s pay was deducted at source.

“Prison officers’ pay wasn’t and the agreement was that there would be a number of reforms and savings through the pay bill.”

Separately,Mr Donnellan said he was hopeful a new drugs hotline to be introduced for the prison system would lead to the supply of confidential information that would allow for the interception of drugs being smuggled into jails.

He said the same model had worked very well for the Garda, who had advised the prison service on its new system to be launched by the end of the month.“We have a lot of pressure put on people; visitors, family members to bring in drugs. And this we hope will allow us to get intelligence.”

As part of the plans to step up the drive against drugs reaching prisoners, the prison service is also carrying out more unannounced searches of prison wings. More drug detection dogs are also being trained, bringing the number in service from 20 at present to 38 by the end of the year.