The Civil Service Arbitration Board (CSAB) has ruled that staff at Portlaoise Prison can retain an “environmental allowance” worth €30.97 per week for another two years, pending a further review at that stage. The allowance is paid to 150 prison staff at Portlaoise at an annual cost of €250,000.
The Irish Prison Service (IPS) has argued that the allowance should be abolished on the grounds that the number of subversive prisoners housed in Portlaoise has declined dramatically since its peak in the early 1980s.
The allowance was introduced in 1982 in recognition of the fact that the vast majority of prisoners committed to Portlaoise Prison were members of subversive groups which placed abnormal tension and strain on prison staff.
It was also awarded to staff at Limerick Prison but has since been withdrawn as prisoners with links to paramilitary groups are no longer incarcerated there.
However, the IPS said the allowance was no longer warranted as the working environment in Portlaoise Prison had changed considerably over recent years, with the number of subversive prisoners down from a maximum of 163 in 1984 to 48 last year.
The IPS also said that five times more workers seek to work in the subversive block at Portlaoise than any other area of the prison, with some spending more than nine years working on the “E-block” by choice. It also noted that staff in Portlaoise do not require any additional training to their colleagues working in other prisons.
However, the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) 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.
The POA said the length of time which the pensionable allowance had been payable meant there was a sense of permanency attached to it. In addition, the association argued that the removal of the allowance could set back remarkable progress which had helped to achieve annual savings of €30m in overtime, as well as a further €33.4m, under the Croke Park and Haddington Road agreements.
The CSAB ruled that the allowance should remain in force for the present but should be reviewed again after a two-year period.
CSAB chairman John Doherty stated: “The original agreement did envisage a review in the light of changing circumstances, and while the number of prisoners linked to subversive organisations has reduced significantly, there nevertheless is still an appreciable number involved, whose presence sustains the unique environment for which the allowance was intended to compensate.”
Mr Doherty said the board did not consider that the environmental circumstances prevailing in Portlaoise had changed sufficiently to warrant the termination of the allowance.