Prison officers angry that prisoners may be vaccinated before them 

Staff introduce a work to rule as some officers say they ought to have similar priority to medical personnel
Prison officers angry that prisoners may be vaccinated before them 

John Clinton, general secretary of the Prison Officers' Association, pointed out that their members may be the only unvaccinated people in a hospital while on escort duty. File picture

A work to rule by prison officers is motivated by anger that prisoners may receive the Covid-19 vaccine ahead of them, according to a number of officers who spoke to the Irish Examiner

The work to rule, in which members of the Prison Officers' Association (POA) have been instructed to do the minimum according to employment agreements, started yesterday morning. 

The POA has stated that it is being carried out in response to a failure to inform prison officers when they will be vaccinated.

However, a number of officers have told the Irish Examiner the catalyst for the action is growing anger that prisoners may be vaccinated ahead of them. 

Prisoners with underlying conditions prioritised

A high proportion of prisoners have underlying conditions, many due to complications associated with drug addiction. In recent days, nurses in the prison service have been approaching those with underlying conditions to check if they are available for the vaccine. 

The prospect of a large number of prisoners receiving the vaccine in advance has, according to multiple sources, greatly angered officers who believe they should have the same priority as medical personnel.

John Clinton, general secretary of the POA, confirmed that he wrote to the Minister for Justice last month pointing out that it would be unfair and unrealistic if prisoners were vaccinated as a priority in the prisons.

Unvaccinated officers on hospital escort duty

“We don’t know when the prisoners are being done and when we’re being done,” he said. “It obviously would be a huge issue if the prison population were done before our members. 

We want protection for our people who do escorts to hospitals where they are the only people in there not vaccinated. 

He said the POA doesn’t have an issue with those with underlying conditions being vaccinated.

It is unclear how many prisoners would qualify for vaccination due to underlying conditions. 

In the ongoing work to rule, among the rules now being strictly observed is that only two officers enter a prison at any one time. Yesterday this led to delays in allowing prisoners out of their cells in the Midlands and Cloverhill prisons.

'Prisoners are the most adversely affected'

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has expressed concern that the actions will negatively impact the welfare of prisoners. 

“Clarity on the position of prison officers in the vaccination schedule is long overdue and must be resolved as a matter of urgency,” IPRT public affairs manager Molly Joyce said. “That said, the people who will be adversely affected by this action are prisoners, who have already carried a very heavy burden of restrictions throughout the pandemic,” she said. 

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