Tuesday, 23 November 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
407. Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the reason overtime payments are made on the same basis to prison officers at a prison which has no inmates as to prison officers at a prison which has inmates; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30322/04]
408. Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if it is less costly for the State to engage serving prison officers or a private security firm to maintain a presence at unoccupied prisons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30323/04]
409. Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the amount paid in overtime to prison officers serving at Fort Mitchell Prison and the Curragh Prison since their closure, up to 18 November 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30324/04]
I refer the Deputy to the answers provided to Questions Nos. 228 and 299 of 16 November 2004, which are relevant to the matter in hand. I said on that date that a small cohort of prison staff is assigned to duties at the Curragh and Fort Mitchel for security reasons and because of the need to carry out essential maintenance. I indicated that there are 11 and 12 staff serving at the Curragh and Fort Mitchel, respectively, and that overtime payments paid to them are made on the same basis as overtime payments at all other locations in the Prison Service. Overtime is necessary in the prisons because of the pattern of cover required to maintain security all day, every day and the small number of staff providing that cover. Approximately €162,000 was paid in overtime to prison officers serving at the Curragh and Fort Mitchel from the time they were mothballed until 30 September 2004. Up-to-date figures are not available. It should be noted that Fort Mitchel was fully operational until it was mothballed on 10 February 2004 and the Curragh was fully operational until it was mothballed on 20 January 2004.
Serving prison officers are being used, rather than a private security firm, because there was no question of staff losing their jobs as a result of the mothballing of the Curragh and Fort Mitchel. It made sense to retain a small cadre of the staff from the institutions rather than retaining private security firms which would have incurred additional costs. It would not have been appropriate to retain a private security firm, given that the institutions were not being closed, but mothballed so they can be reopened at short notice if the Government decides on that course of action.
As I said, the Prison Service has saved over €6 million in respect of pay costs for both facilities in the first nine months of 2004, compared to the same nine-month period in 2003. Significant overall savings have been made in prison officer overtime in 2004. The mothballing of the Curragh and Fort Mitchel continues to achieve the Government’s objective of significantly reducing overtime levels in the Prison Service. Most of the staff from the institutions have been redeployed to effect overtime savings in other Prison Service institutions.
Both institutions’ staffing arrangements are under continuing review. Any decision on their future will have regard to ongoing discussions between the Irish Prison Service and the Prison Officers’ Association on eliminating overtime and reducing other costs. The discussions are close to being concluded. I am hopeful that an agreement will be finalised in the next month or so and that staff will ballot for acceptance.
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