Prison staff want gardaí to investigate attacks by prisoners

Officers also demand criminal inquiries when inmates are found with contraband

Prison officers are to seek a meeting with Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan to urge An Garda Síochána to investigate attacks on prison staff by prisoners.

They also want full criminal investigations carried out when prisoners are found with drugs and mobile phones, claiming the majority of such cases are never investigated.

At its annual conference in Athlone, the Prison Officers Association (POA) said it blamed senior management in prisons and the Irish Prison Service for "playing down" attacks on staff, saying it had no issue with anyone in An Garda Síochána.

The association said gardaí were frequently called into prisons to investigate claims by prisoners that they were assaulted by staff, but no such action was taken when staff members were attacked.

POA assistant general secretary Gabriel Keaveny said his organisation was left to its own devices when bringing attacks on members to the attention of gardaí and "left for months to chase them up".

He said that in the case of Mountjoy Prison, the nearby Garda station had been told it should only take complaints from senior prison managers and not from individual officers.

Mr Keaveny said that in the British prison system there was a liaison officer appointed in each jail to handle all contact between prison staff and the local police.

In the Republic, he said, each jail should have a Garda member assigned to it to advance any issues of a criminal nature that arose, ranging from violence to the discovery of contraband.

“If there is a crime suspected it should be investigated and the people brought before the courts.”

Prison garden

Mr Keaveny said a large sum of money was being spent on creating a garden in a block in the Midlands Prison, Portlaoise, "primarily" for one prisoner.

The POA believed a six-figure sum had been committed to the project.

The association said this followed another prisoner receiving a birthday cake and a fish tank last year, despite having attacked staff.

The POA believed a system of appeasement was now in place, with attacks on staff effectively encouraged by a lack of sanction and continuing privileges.

However, the Irish Prison Service said the garden was not for use by just one prisoner and was part of a wider horticulture project to help rehabilitate prisoners.

It said attacks on prison staff were reported to gardaí. The number of attacks had fallen last year to 91 from 154 in 2013.

At the conference POA general secretary John Clinton said some of his members were "having their pay docked" when off work due to illness after having been assaulted by prisoners while on duty.

“There are all kinds of issues after you’ve suffered a serious assault, psychological as well as physical.

“After 12 months our members’ sick pay just stops. In those circumstances a prison officer will still have their normal bills - their mortgage and so on.

“But your wages have been cut down to a minimum level of social welfare and they also have to pay for the treatment to get back to work.”

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times