Officers at the country’s only maximum security jail have shared a €1m windfall in ‘danger money’ backpay for dealing with some of the most dangerous criminals.
The Irish Prison Service confirmed 178 prison officers at Portlaoise have received €986,961, on average €5,544 each, in the so-called ‘environmental allowance’.
The allowance is worth €30.97 per week to each prison officer. It was introduced in 1982 in recognition of the fact the vast majority of prisoners committed to Portlaoise were members of subversive groups, which placed abnormal tension and strain on prison staff.
The prison service argued before the Civil Service Arbitration Board that the allowance should be abolished on the grounds that the number of subversive prisoners housed in Portlaoise has declined dramatically since its peak of 163 in the early 1980s.
However, along with subversives, prison officers have to deal with some of the most notorious gangland figures at Portlaoise including the criminal dubbed the country’s ‘most dangerous prisoner’, Leon Wright.
Wright, who is serving a six-year sentence, has 84 previous convictions including robbery and assault.
In response to the IPS, the Prison Officers’ Association claimed that subversive prisoners in the jail continue to “exert preponderate influence, excessive power and importance on the working environment and staff resources within Portlaoise”.
In its determination last year, the CSAB ruled that the allowance should remain in force for the present but should be reviewed again after a two-year period.
Department of Justice documents released under Freedom of Information show the payout made up part of a supplementary estimate of €6.29m from the prison service in 2015.
Assistant general secretary of the POA, Gabriel Keaveny, claimed the allowance “is absolutely merited and justified without a shadow of a doubt and this has been recognised by an independent body, the CSAB”.
“There is no prison like Portlaoise across Europe. If an alarm goes off at Portlaoise, the army takes over,” said Mr Keaveny.
“The army is still present at Portlaoise and there are still a large array of dissident republican prisoners there and some of the most violent gangland prisoners in the country.”
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