Dáil Éireann - Volume 578 - 27 January, 2004

Written Answers - Irish Prison Service.

  853. Mr. C. Lenihan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his plans regarding the Shelton Abbey facility and whether he has visited the centre to hear at first hand the views of staff on their future and the effectiveness of the facility. [1258/04]

  856. Mr. C. Lenihan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his plans regarding handing over the Shelton Abbey facility to another agency; and what, if any, savings are envisaged by his Department if that were done. [1261/04]

  Mr. McDowell:I propose to take Questions Nos. 853 and 856 together.

My preference would be for Shelton Abbey to continue to be operated by the Irish Prison Service within a prison system that functions on a sensible, reasonable and cost-effective basis. Achieving such a system will require significant cost restructuring in all prisons and places of detention on foot of proposals put to the Prison Officers' Association for new staff attendance arrangements and the elimination of overtime working.

The Government decision of 11 November last involves the progressive implementation, from 1 January 2004, of several measures in the event of failure to reach agreement with the Prison Officers' Association, or POA, on the proposed change agenda aimed at eliminating overtime payments and reducing other costs in the Prison Service. Those measures include the making of arrangements for the transformation of the open centres at Loughan House, Blacklion, County [691] Cavan, and Shelton Abbey, Arklow, County Wicklow, into post-release centres for the reintegration into society of prisoners on conditional temporary release. My Department and the Irish Prison Service are finalising the arrangements which need to be put in place to give effect to that aspect of the Government decision.

The conversion of Shelton Abbey to a new post-release facility will result in significant savings, mainly arising from reductions in the pay bill. For the year ending 31 December 2002, the most recent year for which financial information is available, Shelton Abbey incurred €600,000 in overtime payments to prison officers.

Under the new proposed arrangement, that overtime will be eliminated. In addition, the current Prison Service complement of 41 staff will be replaced with fewer non-prison staff at significantly reduced rates of pay owing to the fact that the work to be carried out at the centre will be based on more comparable and realistic national work models. That will break the link to the types of security and staff resources required in a prison situation.

As outlined previously, I have no desire to take away the running of Shelton Abbey from the Irish Prison Service. I want the POA to agree to a reasonable and sustainable cost structure for the continued operation by its members of our prisons and the open centres. I met with representatives of the POA on 20 November last, and discussed my position on the negotiations. Agreement was subsequently reached with the Prison Officers' Association to employ the services of the Labour Relations Commission. Discussions are still ongoing, and I very much hope that a mutually acceptable way forward can be found at that forum.

However, if a consensus is not possible, I will have no option but to proceed with the closure of Shelton Abbey place of detention, and to make arrangements for the alternative operation of the centre. The Prison Service will arrange for the transfer of prison officers from those locations to other prison institutions.

  854. Mr. C. Lenihan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his views on the overall situation in the prison service regarding over-staffing; and if the facility at Shelton Abbey has been deemed by either his Department or the prison service to be over-staffed regarding the ratio of staff to prisoners kept there. [1259/04]

[692]   Mr. McDowell:Shelton Abbey is an open facility designed to accommodate up to 56 prisoners who are categorised as a low security risk. Currently 41 members of staff are serving at Shelton Abbey. Recently, the prisoner numbers have been reduced in preparation for implementation of the proposed transformation of the open centre at Shelton Abbey into a post-release centre for the reintegration into society of prisoners on conditional temporary release. That measure is one of several steps which the Government approved in the event of failure to reach agreement with the Prison Officers' Association on a change agenda aimed at eliminating overtime payments and reducing other costs in the Irish Prison Service. Any anomaly in staffing to prisoner ratios at Shelton Abbey in that context is purely temporary.

Negotiations with the POA on moving that agenda forward are currently under way at the Labour Relations Commission, and it is my clear preference that a mutually advantageous agreement is reached with the Prison Officers' Association which would ensure an efficient and cost-effective Prison Service, including the open centre at Shelton Abbey.

  855. Mr. C. Lenihan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he can give a breakdown of the overtime payments to prison officers in the different prison facilities; and his views on the level of overtime payments made to staff at Shelton Abbey in comparison with the rest of the Prison Service. [1260/04]

  Mr. McDowell:The following table shows a breakdown of overtime payments made to prison officers in each prison for the year 2002, the latest full year for which figures are available.

Institution

Number of staff

Average number in custody

Overtime costs ( € )

Average overtime payment per officer ( € )

Arbour Hill Prison

123

137

1,582,671

12,867

Castlerea Prison

160

191

2,925,500

18,284

Cork Prison

233

267

3,540,768

15,196

Cloverhill Prison

388

388

6,321,002

16,291

Curragh Place of Detention

74

92

1,386,868

18,741

Fort Mitchel Place of Detention

97

85

1,098,212

11,321

Limerick Prison

204

187

3,201,404

15,693

Loughan House Place of Detention

50

71

598,060

11,961

Midlands Prison

337

375

5,210,358

15,461

Mountjoy Prison

603

530

12,702,676

21,065

Portlaoise Prison

334

137

8,461,632

25,334

Shanganagh Castle Place of Detention

45

23

646,397

14,364

Shelton Abbey Place of Detention

44

46

607,423

13,805

St. Patrick's Institution

190

180

4,096,140

21,558

Training Unit Place of Detention

78

91

880,744

11,291

Wheatfield Prison

320

367

5,736,808

17,927

TOTAL

3,269

3,167

58,996,663

18,047

[693] Shelton Abbey place of detention incurred overtime costs of €607,423 in 2002. Based on an average of 44 staff, that equates to average overtime earnings of €13,805 per staff member. Shelton Abbey is an open centre and as such has a negligible security requirement when compared with the larger medium-security prisons such as Mountjoy and Wheatfield and the high-security prison at Portlaoise. However, it still generated more average overtime expenditure per staff member than that of the closed institutions of Fort Mitchel and Arbour Hill as well as the training unit, which is a semi-open place of detention.

Question No. 856 answered with Question No. 853.

  857. Mr. C. Lenihan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of serving prison officers now entitled to leave their positions and take retirement because they have served their contractual period of employment; and the contingency plans he has made should that become a reality against the background of a future industrial dispute. [1262/04]

  Mr. McDowell:The maximum retirement age for a prison officer is 60 years, and the normal minimum retirement age is 55. However, at present a member of the service may also retire once he or she has completed 30 years' actual service in the Prison Service, provided he or she is at least 50 years of age. At the moment there are only 125 out of almost 3,200 officers who fall into any of those categories.

Any vacancies arising as a result of staff retiring will be filled, having regard to Government policy on Civil Service numbers, by way of open competition conducted by the Civil Service and Local Appointments Commissioners. A competition for the position of prison officer was last held in November 2001. The Government has approved the holding of a competition for the recruitment of a new entry-level grade of prison officer. The Irish Prison Service is carefully examining the detailed [694] arrangements which need to be put in place to give effect to that decision.