Prison managers challenge service on ‘scapegoating’

Portlaoise Prison, file photo

Three prison managers who believe they were scapegoated following a walkout by 15 prison officers from a dangerous unit of Portlaoise Prison are challenging how the Irish Prison Service dealt with them.

The 15 prison officers walked off the job on May 4 last year without any notice, leaving A block in the prison dangerously exposed.

The previous day, one of the prison officers had been assaulted in the block, which contains members of the Kinahan crime gang and other extremely dangerous criminals.

The prison officers accept what they did “was without reasonable excuse” and that this course of action “placed the welfare of colleagues and the security of the prison at significant risk”.

In the immediate aftermath of the walkout, the prison officers were informed they were to be transferred to Cloverhill Prison as a disciplinary measure.

The transfer was subsequently rescinded and suspended for 12 months conditional on officers complying with time-keeping and attendance requirements. This arrangement was agreed following talks between the prison service and the Prison Officers Association.

Part of the agreement involved the prison officers signing a declaration admitting that what they did was wrong and that it put the safety of colleagues and the prison in danger.

At the same time, three prison managers, who are not members of the association, were transferred on what they believe was a spurious basis associated with the walkout.

According to a source, one of them was told that “the prison service had to give the appearance of being even-handed between managers and prison officers”.

None of the three managers was ever informed that they were to be subject to a disciplinary process or that they bore any culpability for the walkout. One has since had the transfer reversed, but the other two are challenging the manner in which they were treated.

One of the managers has approached a number of politicians in an attempt to address what he says is a blatant injustice against him and his colleagues.

The case was the subject of parliamentary questions submitted by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan late in December, which have yet to receive replies from the Department of Justice.

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