Row over staff levels at Portlaoise prisons

Prison Officers forming a guard of honour for the arrival of Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform John O'Donoghue, T.D. at the Midlands Prison, Portlaoise.
A row has erupted between the Prison Officers Assocation and the Irish Prison Service over staffing levels at the Portlaoise’s prisons after three prison officers were brutally attacked last weekend.

A row has erupted between the Prison Officers Assocation and the Irish Prison Service over staffing levels at the Portlaoise’s prisons after three prison officers were brutally attacked last weekend.

John Clinton, the General Secretary of the Irish Prison Officers Association (POA), raised concerns over the level of staff at the Midlands Prison.

“It wouldn’t be unusual to have two or three prison officers on a landing with up to 45 prisoners. Obviously, the number of staff is set by the security level of the prisoners.”

Mr Clinton claimed the categorisation of prisoners was also flawed.

“This was supposed to be an enhanced prisoner, but obviously this is not the case if he was able to stab a prison officer,” he said.

One prison officer received 14 stitches in the lower back when he was attacked with a make-shift knife or a ‘shiv’ when intervening in a row between two prisoners, last Sunday (March 8).

Two other officers were injured the same day when moving a violent prisoner.

One prison officer fractured his ankle in the incident and sustained broken ribs, while the other officer suffered ligament damage.

“These incidents are deeply concerning, we are only getting over the shocking events in Tallaght Hospital when two officers were injured.

“This is what we are dealing with on a daily basis,” Mr Clinton said.

The association’s General Secretary claimed there was no barrier between the prison officers and the prisoners, since the k-9 unit was stepped down.

“We require the best equipment, but since the dog were stood down there is no barrier between the prison officers and the prisoners. This is not reasonable or fair,” he said.

However, a spokesperson for the Irish Prison Service, said the staffing levels had been agreeed in assocation with the POA.

“It needs to be noted that the staffing levels in the prison have been agreed between prison management and the Prison Officers Association in line with the Haddington Road agreement.”

The spokesperson continued: “These incidents happened on the sex offenders wing, which is not for enhanced prisoners, but it would have a lot of enhanced prisoners on the wing. These prisoners are normally compliant and staff levels on the wing would have been agreed with management and the POA.”

The Prison Services spokesperson also said the k-9 unit would not have been called in during Sunday’s violent incidents.

“The Conflict Resolution Dogs would not have been employed in either of yesterday’s incidents. During the course of their existence they were only used twice.”

Foregin Affairs Minister, Charlie Flanagan said he was appalled by the violence.

“I am acutely aware of the challenging nature of the work of Prison Officers and their dedication.

“I am appalled at the violence that occurred at the Midlands Prison and the fact that two officers required hospital treatment,” he said.