‘Security’ cited as Prison Service broke procurement rules for handcuffs and nets

Public accounts committee says it has met whistleblower on surveillance allegations

Caron McCaffrey, director general of the Irish Prison Service, said there were a number of different types of handcuffs  in use by the prison service. File photograph: Getty Images

Caron McCaffrey, director general of the Irish Prison Service, said there were a number of different types of handcuffs in use by the prison service. File photograph: Getty Images

 

The Irish Prison Service broke State and EU rules on public procurement in 2017, citing matters of security, urgency and specialisation, the Dáil Committee of Public Accounts has been told.

Director general of the prison service Caron McCaffrey told the committee the service has five contracts in place amounting to in excess of half a million euros which were not compliant with procurement rules.

The reasons goods and services would be acquired without meeting the procurement rules were urgency, specialist knowledge on behalf of the service provider, and security, she said.

In relation to security she said the service had three contracts in place for nets, handcuffs and equipment to detect explosives.

Alan Farrell TD said he could understand why the specifications for equipment to detect explosives could be withheld due to security considerations and the fear that the information would fall into criminal hands. But he questioned the secrecy surrounding nets and handcuffs.

Ms McCaffrey said there were a number of different types of handcuffs on the market and a number of different types in use by the prison service. For security reasons, the service was not in a position to provide information on which types of handcuffs were in use. For similar reasons the service did not wish to reveal the specification for nets.

Absenteeism

Ms McCaffrey also addressed Committee concern at the level of absenteeism on the part of prison service staff, which she said was 15.7 days per staff member per year. While she noted the committee’s concern she said the level of absenteeism was “at the lower end of the scale internationally”.

Ms McCaffrey said the comparable figures in Northern Ireland were 19.7 days per officer; in Denmark the figure was 21.9 days and Latvia it was 18.88 days. In Slovenia the figure was 15.3 she said. She said the prison service presented unique challenges to staff on a daily basis that were not faced by civil servants elsewhere.

While the Irish figures were at the lower end of the scale she said the service was putting in place a range of measures, particularly in relation to workplace causes of absenteeism, such as counsellors.

The secretary general of the Department of Justice told committee chairman Sean Fleming he could not discuss the detail of recent whistleblower claims in the prison service, as these were being investigated and were , at least in part, before the courts.

Mr O’Driscoll acknowledged that some of this detail had already appeared in the media. But he said it was the clear advice to the civil service from successive attorneys general that such matters could not be discussed if they were before the courts and subject to an investigative process.

Mr Fleming said the committee was aware of reports in the media in relation to prison officers being followed and surveillance of meetings between prisoners and their contacts. He revealed that the committee in private session had already met a whistleblower from the prison service.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has ordered an investigation into “serious issues” raised by a whistleblower who claims that covert surveillance has taken place in the country’s prisons.

The Irish Examiner has reported that the whistleblower, a serving prison officer, made a number of claims in a sworn affidavit sent to Mr Flanagan.

These include allegations that tracking devices have been placed on prison officers’ cars, and that conversations between solicitors have been monitored. It is also claimed that a private detective agency was hired to carry out the surveillance without the necessary permits and permissions as part of an operation to stop drugs and mobile phones from illegally entering prisons.