Tánaiste addresses pay, assaults and new recruits in speech to Prison Officers from Portlaoise and other prisons

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald addresses Prison Officers Association in Galway

By Conor Ganly

Reporter:

By Conor Ganly

Email:

news@leinsterexpress.ie

Portlaoise Prison

Pay, assaults on prison officers and new recruits including the rehiring of 50 retired officers, are among the issues raised by the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald in her address to the AGM of the Prison Officers Association.

The 70th Prison Officers Association Annual Delegate Conference will take place on 27th and 28th April 2017 in the Radisson Hotel, Galway. The Tánaiste is due to address the delegates this morning from prisons in Portlaoise and elsewhere around the country. 

In her speech she acknowledged the "serious assaults" on prison officers who she said had a "challenging" role. She said a "Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM)" is being rolled out to address stress management for prison 

She spoke about the arrival of 80 new recruits to the service this year and the rehiring on 50 retired officers.

She also spoke about pay. She said the following an agreement in January the payment of a €1000 increase was brought forward to 1st April 2017 for all public servants on salaries of up to €65,000

She said she was aware that following a significant engagement between the Irish Prison Service and the POA, sanction has been given by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on the restoration of the Rent Allowance for Recruit Prison Officer.  She welcomed a number of reform measures have been agreed.

As to a new pay deal she said the Government needs "an agreement that is affordable, sustainable and fair".

The following is the written text of the Tánaiste's speech.

"I would like to thank you for your invitation to address your annual conference here in Galway. It gives me an opportunity to speak directly to you and to thank you and all our prison staff for the challenging and important work that you do. 

You have contributed to huge change in the prison system in recent years. The Service has seen the successful implementation of the 2012 – 2015 Strategic Plan. The implementation of this Strategy has seen improvements across the prison system including the reduction in the numbers in custody by over 20% and the enhanced used of structured temporary release.

The implementation of prisoner programmes such as incentivised regimes and integrated sentence management; the modernisation of prison accommodation, including the elimination of slopping-out, and the implementation of Public Service Agreements through the Transformation Programme.

The Irish Prison Service has now commenced the implementation of a new Strategic Plan for 2016 – 2018 which has four key Strategic Aims including Staff Support, Prisoner Support, Victim Support and Enhancing Organisational Capacity.  

We have come through a severe economic crisis over the last few years. I acknowledge the embargo on recruitment has had a significant impact in the Irish Prison Service. 

Last year I announced that the first Recruit Prison Officer campaign since 2008 had commenced and approximately 80 new Recruit Prison Officers will join the Service this year. 

Furthermore, the Irish Prison Service is currently making arrangements to expedite the recruitment of additional new staff by utilising an existing building on the West Dublin Campus as a second training centre for new recruits. 

This will increase the capacity of the organisation for the intake of new Recruit Prison Officers to over 250 in 2018.

Each new Recruit Prison Officer will complete the remodelled Higher Certificate in Custodial Care (HCCC) which is accredited by Waterford Institute of Technology. 

The arrival of new officers over the coming months will see the Prison Service renewed and will allow scope for the IPS to keep pace with expected retirements.

I know the Irish Prison Service has also implemented a number of other measures aimed at addressing any existing staff shortfalls to ensure a safe working environment for staff. 

Such measures include the deployment of additional hours under what is known as the “Single Scheme” which is being utilised to support prison management in addressing the demands arising from escorts. 

The development and implementation of a Regime Management Plan at every location will direct resources to the delivery of structured activities for prisoners wishing to engage in such activities and will ensure that we have a safe working environment for staff.

In addition the IPS has received sanction for the recruitment of up to 50 retired prison officers on short-term contracts to further support the demands placed on prisons. 

We are also working to improve the environment for staff through initiatives aimed at enhancing staff safety and staff well-being.  

The role of a prison officer is a difficult and challenging one. Prison staff must deal with a wide range of complex issues and there are occasions when they are subjected to acts of violence. Following a number of serious assaults, the IPS facilitated the State Claims Agency in compiling a Review of Assaults on Operational Prison Staff by Prisoners. 

Assaults on prison officers are absolutely unacceptable and will not tolerated. I recognise you work in a dangerous environment and your safety is of paramount important. The rigours of the law must apply where assaults are concerned and sanctions must be implemented.  In examining the legislation In this area I will take this into account. 

I acknowledge that the Prison Officers Association has concerns regarding the Report which were outlined to me by your National Officers at our meeting last December. 

There are many findings in the report including the fact that given the number of committals in 2015 the ratio of assaults to the number of prisoners in the system was low. However, the organisation must always strive to improve and no act of violence against a member of prison staff will ever be acceptable. We must continue to work together to make our prisons safer for all. 

The report contains a large number of recommendations and I, and the Director General of the Irish Prison Service, have accepted these recommendations which will be implemented –an undertaking that has been included as a Key Action in the Irish Prison Service’s Strategic Plan 2016-2018. 

While the Irish Prison Service is committed to creating a safer environment for all those who work or live within our prison walls, the Service is also committed to ensuring all staff are supported in their workplace. This is especially important for any staff member who is subject to or witnesses an assault. 

In the Strategic Plan 2016 – 2018 the Prison Service identified Staff Support as a priority action and aims to promote open, respectful, competent, supportive, fair and inclusive behaviour at all levels in the workplace.  

The Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) is a confidential support and referral service for all Prison Service staff. There are currently over 40 locally appointed Staff Support Officers for prison staff, and 3 Employee Assistance Officers.      

A number of initiatives have been developed by the Staff and Corporate Services Directorate and the EAP team to improve the working environment and promote the active participation of employees in health activities.  

These include:

The roll out, this year, of Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) which aims to address stress management for prison personnel who may encounter stressful situations not normally experienced by the general public.  

It aims to minimise the emotional impact of critical incidents on IPS staff, increases the resistance and resilience of IPS staff to harmful stress and prevent harmful effects on staff by working and supporting IPS staff at the time of Critical Incidents. The Staff Support Officers play an important role in the roll out of CISM.

The provision of a free 24/7/365 counselling service for all prison staff by INSPIRE Workplace, formerly CARECALL, was introduced in 2016.   This initiative gives easy access, for prison service staff, to counselling. The feedback from staff who have accessed the service is very positive. 

A further Staff Wellbeing and Support Programme is currently being developed to raise awareness of mental, emotional and physical health and to raise awareness among staff regarding stress management and resilience techniques and supports available in the workplace and elsewhere.   This will be rolled out to all Irish Prison Service staff from mid-2017 onwards.

Colleagues, as you know the complete closure of St Patrick’s Institution was confirmed earlier this month with the remaining B Division being subsumed into Mountjoy Prison. As a result the ending of the practice of imprisoning children with adults has been realised.

I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the work that you have done with the young offenders that were housed in St. Pat’s over the years. 

The Irish Prison Service has recently announced that the Training Unit Place of Detention will temporarily close and will be repurposed, as a unit for older prisoners, a key action in the IPS Strategic Plan and will allow for a more co-ordinated response to our aging prison population. 

I would also like to pay tribute to the staff who have worked there since its establishment as a semi-open prison and to acknowledge the important role that they have played in the rehabilitation of offenders. 

The Irish Prison Service is working to implement the recommendations contained in the Inspector of Prisons Report into Prisoner Complaints.  

The IPS has engaged with the Ombudsman and has held a number of meetings around policy issues and their involvement as a complainant body for the IPS. 

The new complaints policy has been drafted and is being finalised including the designing of the complaints management process.  It is expected that the new system will be completed by the end of the year and will be supported by training for management and liaison officers and will incorporate a full information package for prison officers and prisoners. 

As you know work is now ongoing to prepare the ground for new public pay talks. 

Before we begin negotiations, the Government is awaiting the report of the Public Service Pay Commission.  This report, due in Q2 of this year, will provide a key input to the talks process by providing evidence-based objective analysis on a number of key issues, including how the unwinding of the Financial Emergency legislation should proceed.

Following an agreement in January the payment of a €1000 increase was brought forward to 1st April 2017 for all public servants who are party to that agreement and who are on salaries of up to €65,000

I am also aware that following a significant engagement between the Irish Prison Service and the POA, sanction has been given by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on the restoration of the Rent Allowance for Recruit Prison Officer. 

A number of reform measures have been agreed, most notably the implementation of a more robust dispute resolution regime, to include access to both the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) and the Labour Court

Looking towards a new agreement, for the Government, the priorities are simple, we need an agreement that is affordable, sustainable and fair.  The negotiations will be challenging but the Government is clear that we want to reach an agreement and we look forward to working with the Prison Officers Association and all trade unions and associations.

The work of the Irish Prison Service is hugely important and the contribution that is made by prison staff on a daily basis makes our society safer. It is the prison officer that interacts each day with people in custody who need help, support and the opportunity to rehabilitate. There are still significant challenges facing the Prison Service but, I am confident the Service, both management and staff, can and will continue to meet these challenges. 

To conclude I would like to thank you again for your invitation to be with you today. I would like to thank all prison staff for the work they do with great commitment and professionalism on a daily basis. I would also like to acknowledge those who have retired recently or have left the service and thank them all for their service. I would like to wish you well for the remainder of your conference."