Dáil Éireann - Volume 601 - 21 April, 2005
Written Answers. - Irish Prison Service.
Mr. Ó Fearghaíl Mr. Ó Fearghaíl
191. Mr. Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position with regard to the Curragh Prison; if the prison is to be re-opened; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12585/05]
Mr. J. O’Keeffe Mr. J. O’Keeffe
207. Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position regarding his proposals on reducing the cost of overtime in the prison service; the outcome of the  ballot thereon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12699/05]
Mr. McDowell Mr. McDowell
Mr. McDowell: I propose to take Questions Nos. 191 and 207 together.
After a lengthy and difficult negotiations process between the Irish Prison Service and the Prison Officers’ Association, involving both the Labour Relations Commission and the Civil Service arbitration board, discussions between the parties concluded on 8 February 2005 with agreement being reached on a proposal for organisational change in the prison service. This proposal was put to staff for ballot and I was advised of the outcome on 20 April 2005.
The staff have rejected the proposal which was recommended for acceptance by the national executive of the POA. The protracted industrial relations process involved resulted in a significant financial package, including an allowance of 8% of basic pay, guaranteed payments for additional attendance at a premium rate and lump sum payments amounting to €13,750 per officer. Under the deal, a basic grade prison officer at the top of the scale had the potential to earn almost €70,000 per annum when the agreement was fully implemented.
The issue of excessive costs and overtime goes back to 1995. I have been very patient with this process. I gave management and staff ample space and time to agree a way forward which would effectively eliminate the scourge of unsustainable overtime which has bedevilled the prison service. The arrangements agreed between the sides at the Labour Relations Commission and the financial elements which emerged from the subsequent arbitration process offered a real solution which would work to the benefit of both management and staff. However, staff have opted to reject the package and I now have no option but to look to alternative measures to secure real control of prison service expenditure given that the full range of industrial relations machinery available has now been exhausted. I must now proceed to take whatever measures are necessary to ensure that the valuable resources which are at my disposal are used efficiently and effectively. Deputies will already be aware from my public response to the ballot result what those measures will entail but I will outline them again for the record.
In the context of the mandate that I already have from my Cabinet colleagues to pursue certain measures to curtail expenditure in the service, I have decided to proceed with the following measures: early enactment of legislation already approved by Government to privatise the prisoner escort service; parallel arrangements for tenders for privatisation of prisoner escorts; the permanent closure of the Curragh and Fort Mitchel places of detention which are currently mothballed and the transfer of the staff from those prisons on a permanent basis to other prisons; the withdrawal of the two open centres  at Loughan House and Shelton Abbey from the prison service and their transformation into post release centres run on a similar basis by external staff.
I will inform the director general of the prison service and the prison governors that, with effect from the beginning of May 2005, spending in each prison will be managed on a strict cash basis with monthly limits and that staffing levels will have to conform to those limits. In addition, measures to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the service through the use of new technology such as CCTV, automated gates and video links will be rolled out as a matter of priority. Staff have made their decision in the full knowledge of the consequences. It was made quite clear to the Prison Officers’ Association and their members that failure to conclude agreement on this deal following the extensive assistance of the Labour Relations Commission and the considered adjudication of the Civil Service arbitration board could mean only one thing and that is the progressive implementation of measures along the lines of those I have outlined. I have no choice now but to act to bring to an end the damaging and unsustainable overtime culture among prison staff.
Mr. Ó Fearghaíl Mr. Ó Fearghaíl
192. Mr. Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the proposals that exist for those personnel who worked in the Curragh Place of Detention education unit but were subsequently redeployed. [12586/05]
Mr. McDowell Mr. McDowell
Mr. McDowell: I draw the Deputy’s attention to my answer to separate Questions Nos. 191 and 207 of today’s date on my proposals on reducing the cost of overtime in the prison service. A proposal for organisational change in the prison service, which was put to the staff for ballot, has been rejected. Since there is no scope to renegotiate that deal, I will be proceeding with the progressive implementation of a series of measures as already approved by the Government, to secure real control of expenditure in the prison service, including the permanent closure of the Curragh Place of Detention. The issue of the redeployment of the staff of the institution’s education unit will be among the matters to be considered in the context of such closure.
Dáil Éireann 601 Written Answers. Irish Prison Service.