Irish Prison Service to beef up legal response to litigation and whistleblowers

Conor Ganly

Reporter:

Conor Ganly

prison

Midlands Prison Portlaoise

The Irish Prison Service (IPS) is about to beef up its ability to respond legally to employment issues, litigation involving staff, industrial relations and its dealings with whistleblowers.

The IPS is hiring a solicitor or barrister with expertise in employment law to advise on litigation involving prison officers and other staff working at jails in Portlaoise and other parts of the country.

The Service says applicants for the 'employment law specialist' role must have considerable knowledge of Irish employment law and have experience of going to court.

The job will have a wide range of responsibilities and applicants will are expected to have a wide range of experience including how to deal with whistleblowers.

The successful applicant will be expected to prepare or assist in preparing briefs for counsel for litigation involving the organisation. They will also be asked to assist in the conduct of employment law litigation and representation at court proceedings including statutory appeals or judicial reviews.

The applicant will have to monitor the outcome of litigation and liaise with staff on follow-up action.

Industrial relations are also on the agenda as applicants have been told they will also be expected to legally represent the Service before the Workplace Relations Commission and Labour Court.

The applicant will be asked to providing legal advice and policy paper preparation in respect of relevant HR policies.

The may be asked to design and develop manuals and deliver and evaluate training relating to: ethics; judicial reviews; code of discipline; investigations; employment law.

The IPS want the person to be able to liaise with and manage the work of external legal advisors. It also wants the solicitor to providing guidance and assistance on investigations conducted by IPS in respect of HR issues.

The job spec says the solicitor or barrister will be expected to support the development of the organisation’s knowledge bank on legal issues through written guidance, verbal updates and meetings.

Applicants will also be required to carry out research on behalf of caseworkers in complex cases. They will have to monitor court cases involving public bodies generally with reference to the applicability of outcomes to the IPS.

From time-to-time, the new recruit may also be asked to speak at public events on behalf of the IPS.

The job spec confirms that the post will be at Assistant Principal level. This is described as being at 'a senior managerial grade' in the Civil Service and a 'critical' post in terms of 'ensuring quality service delivery to the public'.

Under qualifications and experience, the IPS lists as desirable 'experience of advising on data protection law, freedom of information law procurement law and the Protected Disclosures Act, 2014'.

The IPS is embroiled in a number of high profile controversies which have stemmed from staff either making protected disclosures or reporting matters to the Minister for Justice.

One such controversy involved the placing of tracking devices on the cars of prison officers and the use of external investigators. The Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan is consulting with the Attorney General on what to do with a report from the Inspector of Prisons on the claims which stemmed from a sworn affidavit submitted to Minister Flanagan.

A separate disclosure has seen an officer at the Midlands Prison highlighting several shortcomings. He was awarded compensation but the IPS is appealing the finding.

Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry has also forwarded a file to the Gardaí after being contacted by prison officers.

The IPS says it employs some 3,200 uniformed and civilian staff at 12 prisons and its HQ in Longford. It has 4,000 prisoners in custody at any one time.