Midlands Regional Hospital Portlaoise.
A sexual assault on a female prison officer in one of Portlaoise's prison is among the attacks on officers that have now become the norm, the Prison Officers Association has claimed.
The incident was highlighted on the eve of the Association's Annual Delegate Conference in Kilkenny by Stephen Delaney the outgoing President.
As a result Mr Delaney called on Laois TD and Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan to commission an independent investigation of assaults on officers.
“When I joined the job over thirty years ago, and many facets of the job have improved since then, the assault of a prison officer was a rarity and something that reverberated around every prison in the country and was not a statistical anomaly to be ‘interpreted’ and logged. The current amount and seriousness of assaults on our members is simply not acceptable or sustainable. Many of our officers now believe that the rule of law in prisons has disappeared and that the era of appeasement for the offender is now fully embedded,” he said.
“Since our conference last May our members have experienced a wide range of assaults, while doing their duty of behalf of the state," he said.
Mr Delaney went on to outlined a series of assaults at jails in Portlaoise and elsewhere.
"In June three officers attacked while on escort; in July (Cloverhill) two staff were injured, which involved one recruit ingesting blood in a vicious attack; in August an officer in Cork was attacked and hospitalized with a head injury; in September, also in Cork, a Prison Officers’ Car was petrol bombed in front of their home; in October (Mountjoy) two officers were attacked and one bitten in a serious assault; in November (Midlands) an officer was attacked and sustained a head injury: in December (Mountjoy) a female officer was grabbed from behind by the hair and smacked off a wall and in the Midlands Prison a female officer was sexually assaulted. Also during December urine was thrown over staff, an officer was attacked with an iron bar; while in January a Mountjoy prisoner spat into an officer’s face. These include the main items on a catalogue of assaults perpetrated on our members since we met last year,” he said
He called on the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan to intervene. Minister Flanagan's Laois constituency is home to Ireland's biggest prison complex in Portlaoise town.
“Delegates, year on year since I took up this role – and indeed well before my time – the President of our Union has stood here at this point in proceedings and quoted from statistical analysis of one type or another. When these statistics, especially on assaults, dip from the ‘outrageous’ to the simply ‘unbelievable’ the Minister of the day will normally tell us ‘what great progress is being made’ and that it ‘represents a significant reduction of instances of violence upon the dedicated working prison officers of the service’. And so it goes on for another year and sometimes another Minister, while individual prison officers and their families are trying to cope with all that has occurred.
“I am now calling on you Minister to announce an independent analysis of assaults on our members while at work. This analysis should lead to recommendations on how our members can experience a safe place of work. Surely this is not too much to ask in 2018. I appreciate that your advisers in the department will explain these assaults away as ‘one of the risks of the job’ and ‘they joined knowing about the possibility of assaults’ – and you must reject these explanations out of hand. My members deserve and expect better”
Mr Delaney said practical discipline solutions have been rejected and even withdrawn.
“In recent years practical solutions that form part and parcel of prison work in other jurisdictions, such as conflict resolution, dogs and batons being part of the uniform – were unilaterally rejected by our employer. One of the practical methods of punishment, which forms part of the prison rules, was the withdrawal of remission.
"This was unilaterally removed by the employer in the latest round of prisoner concessions to satisfy the whim of whoever the latest ‘forward thinking’ group that never had to walk a prison landing but thought long and impressive thoughts about how to ‘hug’ away the problems of this world. We must all get real on this issue of assaults on our members; the hugging philosophy is as outdated as it is ridiculous,” he said.
The 71st Annual Delegate Conference takes place on April 19 and 20 in the Lyrath Estate Hotel, Paulstown Road, Kilkenny.