‘Very possible’ prison staff will go on strike in next six weeks

Prison chiefs ‘provocative’ by showing gardaí how system works

The president of the Prison Officers’ Association has warned that there is a very real prospect of strike action by prison officers within six weeks.

On the final day of the association’s annual conference in Clare, Stephen Delaney said that “a national strike is now very possible”.

He claimed the Irish Prison Service “has been very provocative in recent times by bringing gardaí in to the prisons for the purpose of instructing them how to carry out the functions of a prison officer”.

“They have been bringing them in the past few months, showing them around, showing them where the kitchens are, where the keys are, and where everything is, basically, and how the prisons operate,” he said.

“They are trying to get us to show our hand and it’s very provocative. There is no need for it. We haven’t given any notice of strike action and we hope not to do so. However, we will defend our interests.”

RELATED: Prison officers on verge of industrial action

Mr Delaney said six weeks is the soonest this issue could come to a head, “We don’t need to ballot our members again. If this happens, it would mean some members working to rule and others walking out. That would be determined by the national executive council. We are fully committed to resolving this dispute. However, in the event of the doomsday scenario — we would have to withdraw labour.”

Mr Delaney said there would be “the usual engagement with the Labour Relations Commission”.

“However, we have been through that process for the last 12 months and we seem to be no further on.

“And in recent weeks, things have got worse. A national prison strike is now very possible. We would provide a limited cover but obviously the gardaí and the army would have to provide the rest. This could well have a knock-on effect on the service provided by gardaí as there would need to be a lot of them to fill our roles.”

RELATED: Prison officers strike deferred after Labour Relations Commission intervention

On the army and gardaí turning up at prisons, Mr Delaney said: “Nobody tells us in advance. We find out they are coming in when they turn up at the gate. The employer has not asked or consulted us in relation to this. These tours have been happening all over the country in most, if not all, the prisons by now.

“They don’t turn up in uniforms, the army and gardaí turn up in civilian clothes. Obviously it’s management’s attempt to cater in the event of an industrial dispute. I’d say they’d need a lot to cover for us in the event of industrial action. This will pit us against the gardaí.”

Speaking to reporters prior to Mr Delaney’s warning, Irish Prison Service director general Michael Donnellan said: “We always have to have a contingency plan. We would be reckless as a prison service if we didn’t have contingency plans in the case of industrial action, and, as you know, the POA took industrial action last September in Cloverhill by leaving work for an hour.

“In relation to the pay issue we, under Haddington Road, agreed with the POA that there would be over €12m savings, we’re still shy of over €3m of that and all we are trying to do is implement the agreement.

“That’s my job, That’s our job. I cannot run away. My pay and everyone else’s pay was deducted at source. Prison officers’ pay wasn’t and the agreement was that there would be a number of reforms and savings through the pay bill, and all we’re trying to do is implement that agreement.”

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