Prison officers: Nóirín O’Sullivan hasn’t seen fit to meet with us about PO assaults

The Prison Officers’ Association claims it has been denied a face-to-face meeting with Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan in relation to serious concerns it has regarding the investigation of assaults by inmates on prison officers.

Prison officers: Nóirín O’Sullivan hasn’t seen fit to meet with us about PO assaults

POA bosses said they wrote to Ms O’Sullivan a year ago seeking such a meeting, but that she offered a meeting with her senior managers.

Speaking at its annual conference in Galway, POA president Stephen Delaney said there were numerous cases of assaults on prison officers that were not investigated properly and where no prosecutions were taken.

He said this was even in cases where there was a “wealth of evidence” against the perpetrator and at least one case where the prisoner admitted to a governor about an assault.

POA assistant general secretary Gabriel Keaveny said the association wrote to the Garda commissioner a year ago, after its last conference, seeking a meeting on the matter.

“On numerous occasions we have looked to meet her,” he said.

“Unfortunately she hasn’t seen fit to have the meeting at this particular point in time.”

He said Ms O’Sullivan had offered a meeting with an assistant commissioner and a chief superintendent, but that the association wanted to meet her.

“That has always been the protocol,” said Mr Keaveny.

“We have met many previous Garda commissioners. And we don’t request very often, but, when we do, we would like to sit down and explain our issues to her.”

He said only the commissioner can issue a general circular that would address its concerns.

“A number of years ago we had an issue with our names being put in statements,” said Mr Keaveny. “The then commissioner issued a circular to all Garda stations to say that wasn’t to happen.

“We think it’s awful important that she sits down with us, to hear the issue with assaults and how they are prosecuted and the lack of progress that we see on the ground for individual prison officers. To chase gardaí, follow them, and see what’s happening with a case, and we just think it’s not good enough.”

Mr Delaney said this was why a motion was going through the conference calling for a garda liaison officer for each prison.

He said this would ensure that the “line of communication” between the prison officer, prison management, and gardaí and other relevant authorities is functioning effectively.

State in a ’relentless war’ with gangs

Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said the State is engaged in a “relentless war” against criminal gangs and admitted jailed gang bosses are posing “increasing” problems for prison authorities.

Amid calls from the Prison Officers’ Association for a special prison for crime lords, Ms Fitzgerald the justice minister said such a move is a “possibility” if it is deemed necessary by the Irish Prison Service.

Speaking at the POA annual conference in Galway, Ms Fitzgerald said there was a clear threat from gangs.

“They are very serious nationally and internationally,” she said. “We know the resources that gangs have. We know the kind of sustained work that we have to do, whether it is in our communities or in our prisons to ensure that we are continually challenging and making sure that criminal gangs cannot continue their work wherever they are.”

She told delegates: “They have more and more resources, as we know. We know that they are unrelenting in wanting to continue their criminal activity and we have to make sure we have the resources in place to deal with that challenge.”

Ms Fitzgerald said it was no surprise the problems from criminal gangs are reflected in prisons. However, she rejected suggestions from the POA that gang bosses are directing operations on the outside from inside their cells.

“There are strong policies in place in relation to separation and segregation and management of this,” she said. “It is a challenge, it’s an increasing challenge, I would say, one the Prison Service is very aware of.”

On the call by the POA for a special unit to isolate gang bosses, Ms Fitzgerald said: “Well, if that’s appropriate, I don’t see any argument against it, but, all the time, these are operational matters for prison authorities, informed of course by those people who are on the ground dealing with prisoners day in day out.

“There’s different management methods needed and of course that’s a possibility as well, so you can never rule it out.”

She said the authorities have to be “innovative” and “consider new methods”.

“One thing we know about criminal gangs is they are relentless: They don’t stop, they keep going.

“Criminals have one thing in mind: To break the law, whether they are in prison or outside of prison, and will do everything to increase their power. It is a relentless war against them.”

In relation to POA calls for mandatory sentences for assaults on prison officers, Ms Fitzgerald said: “There’s an increasing move internationally to bring in new legislation for those who protect us for emergency work, for frontline, whether it is prison officers or gardaí.

“I am examining the legislation to see if we can strengthen the protection. There is specific legislation in place, but I do believe they deserve special recognition.”

She accepted there have been “unacceptable acts of violence” perpetrated on prison officers and said there should be “consequences”.

In relation to POA claims of a “staffing crisis”, Ms Fitzgerald said 80 recruits would come on stream this year and 250 next year.In addition, 50 retired officers were being taken back on short-term contracts, a first in the public service, she said.

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