Prison officers in Laois could be set to take industrial action in protest against what they perceive as dangerous work practices imposed upon them by the Prison Service.
Members of the Prison Officers Association (POA) will take a ballot next Wednesday, March 11, to decide whether the State’s 3,200 prison officers based at 14 prisons throughout the country will go out on strike.
Speaking to the Leinster Express, general secretary of the POA Mr John Clinton said there was a range of long-standing issues causing concerns to the prison officers, with health and safety topping the agenda. He said that the recent attack on two prison officers escorting a prisoner to Tallaght Hospital “highlights the dangers we face on a daily basis”, adding that the union was not taking the decision to ballot lightly.
“Prison reflects society. Gang members are locked up and they start to connect, they use their power to keep the racketeering going. Crime has not decreased over the years,” he said.
He said that the use of open centres would help lessen the burden on the prison service by off-loading less violent prisoners to such centres, thus freeing up officers to deal with dangerous prisoners in prisons. He pointed out that an Oireachtas sub-committee on penal reform had recommended the use of open centres, something that the POA agreed with.
“Someone could be in prison and they may not be a violent prisoner, and they could be moved to an open centre. There are plenty in prison who could be moved to an open prison, it gives you a better methodology for dealing with prisoners,” he said, pointing out that there are currently just two open centres in Ireland.
He also lambasted the decision to cut the K-9 Units, sniffer dogs used to detect drugs in prisons which he said offered exceptional safety for prison officers. He said that the POA had been using such units, but the Prison Service made the unilateral decision to stand-down all sniffer dogs.
“We’re going against every other prison service in the world by standing them down,” he said.
Labour senator John Whelan also condemned the “bully-boy tactics” by elements within the Irish Prison Service, calling on the Minister for Justice to intervene.
“This has been a festering sore which is about to come to a head as prison officers are resolute and determined that they will no longer tolerate this toxic culture or countenance their union being sidelined,” he said.