Irish prison officers can earn twice UK rate


PRISON OFFICERS IN the Republic can earn almost twice as much as their counterparts in England and Wales when allowances are taken into account, the Public Accounts Committee has been told.

Fine Gael TD John Deasy told the committee that the average salary of a prison officer in England and Wales was £27,000 (€33,600).

Prison Officers’ Association general secretary John Clinton said his members earned between €42,000 and €62,000 for those on the top of the scale when all allowances were taken into account.

He said there was “no comparison” between Irish prison officers and their UK counterparts because Irish prison officers worked longer hours, British prisons were better staffed and many were run by private contractors. Mr Clinton maintained that many allowances were regarded as core pay and evolved historically in lieu of pay rises. He said members could not survive without them given the “difficult financial circumstances that many find themselves in”.

Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy said €62,000 was more than a pilot earned though they had to go through tough training, work “incredibly long hours” and carried an immense amount of responsibility. He said by comparison, a prison officer’s salary seemed “excessive”.

Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald said €62,000 in pay was fair, given that TDs earned €92,000 per annum. “It would not strike me as excessive,” she said.

The committee, which is examining allowances paid to the public service, spent yesterday investigating the €85 million worth of allowances paid to the 3,429 staff working in the prison system, accounting for 35 per cent of the pay bill.

Mr Deasy said most private sector companies would go under if they adopted the allowances system of the public sector.

Mr Deasy pointed out that a nurse officer in the prison system gets 18 allowances and an assistant governor 17 allowances.

“It seems to me that we have evolved a system whereby if we did it all over again we would do it differently. In the private sector no company would adopt a situation like this. Frankly they would go to the wall.”

Department of Justice secretary general Brian Purcell said the prison service operated 365 days a year, 24 hours a day and the bulk of the money, some €57.5 million, was in respect of extra attendance and attendance for unsocial hours outside of normal work patterns.

Independent TD Shane Ross pointed out that prison officers were in receipt of an average of €26,000 in allowances.

Mr Ross said it was “crackers” and a logistical “nightmare” that some prison officers were getting so many allowances, citing the example of a senior prison officer who was getting 16 allowances.

Mr Purcell countered that if a prison officers was getting so many allowance, “though it sounds like an awful lot, you don’t just get an allowance without doing something for it. You would have to tick whatever box is required.”

Mr Purcell said there had been a 30 per cent rise in numbers of prisoners since 2008 and the prison service was operating with 10 per cent fewer staff.

Since an agreement on overtime came in in 2005 to curb a €65 million overtime bill, there had been annual savings of €30 million and the annualised hours system ensured that overtime would not continue to “grow and grow”.

Mr Ross also criticised allowances to judges which included €9,000 for working at home and €1,000 for a wig, an amount he described as “excessive” given that they were already well paid. He claimed there was a lack of transparency about such allowances.