Address by Ms Kathleen Lynch, T.D., Minister of State, Department of Justice and Equality and Department of Health at the Annual Conference of the Prison Officers' Association 26 April, 2012
Check Against Delivery
Mr. President, Distinguished Guests, Delegates.
Thank you for your kind invitation to address your annual conference. Unfortunately, due to his required attendance at an EU Justice and Home Affairs Council of Ministers meeting in Luxembourg, Minister Shatter could not be here this morning, however, he has asked me to extend his apologies and wish you a successful conference.
At the outset I would like to acknowledge the excellent work you and your colleagues do on a daily basis.
We have a dedicated work force doing a difficult job in challenging times. The staff of the Prison Service conduct their daily business in a professional and humane way and you can be justifiably proud of the job you do on behalf of the State.
I am aware that change has dominated the Prison Service for the past number of years and change is certainly part of the way forward and we must, together, strive to adapt to the new reality of reduced staffing levels and reduced budgets. I fully appreciate that the reduced staffing levels place greater demands on your members at a time when we must also meet the challenge of increasing prisoner numbers.
Regrettably, Government has had to defer the new prison build at Thornton as part of the review of public expenditure but we continue to provide capital investment to the prison estate.
The largest single allocation of the capital allocation to the Justice Sector for 2012 was provided to the Prisons Service to fund the Prison Service Building Programme. This allows for the completion of a new 300 space prison wing in the Midlands Prison which is expected to become operational later this year. It also allows for continuation of the refurbishment and in-cell sanitation project in Mountjoy Prison which will radically improve the existing physical conditions, including the provision of in-cell sanitation and the upgrading of fire safety and detection systems.
The renovation of the C wing is now complete and the renovation of the B Division this year will result in 317 cells in Mountjoy prison having in-cell sanitation by the end of the year, almost 60% of the total prison.Detailed plans are also being finalised for the replacement of Cork prison through the construction of a new modern prison on the adjacent prison car park site.
This significant capital investment underlines the Government’s commitment to addressing the twin problems of overcrowding and poor physical conditions within the prison estate and is the realisation of the Government’s commitment to the elimination of slopping out in prisons as set out in the Government Programme for National Recovery.
Turning to the Government’s agenda of Public Sector Reform, I wish to acknowledge the commitment of your National Officers and local branch representatives for working in partnership with Irish Prison Service Headquarter Staff to implement the terms of the Public Service Agreement 2010 -2014.
We are all aware of the critical financial constraints that the Public Service must operate within today. We must find ways to deliver our service at a lower cost while maintaining the high standards for which the Prison Service can justifiably be proud. The critical role that the Prison Service plays in society means that we must tackle this challenge together. Within the framework set by the Croke Park Agreement we must implement new processes, deliver incentivised regimes, and revise staffing levels to deliver our service. No time can be lost between planning and implementation.
The Agreement commits the Irish Prison Service to delivering savings on pay of €21 million per annum which will be achieved through the implementation of the Transformation Programme. Under this Programme, task reviews of all prisons and services are being carried out jointly by the Prison Officers’ Association and Prison Service management. These task reviews are examining in detail all current organisational, structural and operational arrangements with a view to introducing new policies, procedures and work practices so that our prisons can operate in the most effective and efficient manner.
Of particular importance to this process is the introduction of the new Incentivised Regimes Policy, and the continuing roll-out of the Integrated Sentence Management programme. These are progressive regime developments and will play an important role in the rehabilitation of offenders thereby contributing to public safety.
Task reviews have been completed in Cloverhill, Wheatfield, Castlerea, Loughan House, and the Training Centre in Beladd and are moving to implementation stage. Task reviews in Shelton Abbey, Cork, Limerick and Arbour Hill Prisons are nearly complete and the field work has commenced in respect of the Midlands Prison and the Operational Support Group. The reviews in the remaining prisons will commence over the next two months.
Many of you will have experienced this process first-hand.
I wish to acknowledge fully the work of POA officials at both national and local level, as well as the broader membership, in driving and facilitating this joint approach, which is a model for the Public Service.
The reviews will provide improved organisational structures for the staffing of prisons and future developments on a more efficient basis. The ability of the Prison Service to open planned new prisoner accommodation and to deliver further efficiencies within the lifetime of the Agreement requires that the improved organisational structures are implemented without delay.
An equally vital step in the Transformation Process is the introduction of a new grade to replace the current grade of prison Clerk. This process will, when fully implemented, deliver approximately €3.5 million of essential savings. The Clerks will be redeployed to other positions crucial to the ongoing operation of the Prison Service and will be replaced by the new grade of Prison Administration and Support Officers.
The Public Appointments Service is currently carrying out a recruitment campaign and it is expected that the first of the new staff will take up duty in the coming months. I appreciate that the redeployment process can be unsettling for some staff but would like to assure them that the process will be managed in a supportive manner. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank them for their continued contribution to the Prison Service.
Separately, discussions are ongoing between your Association and Prison Service management on the development of new campus structures in Mountjoy, Cloverhill/Wheatfield and Portlaoise/Midlands prisons. It is expected that the efficiencies that will follow from the introduction of a number of shared services on these campuses will lead to significant savings for the Prison Service. The posts of Campus Governor at Cloverhill/Wheatfield and Portlaoise/Midlands prisons have been advertised by the Public Appointments Service and it is hoped to make appointments to these positions in the near future.
These appointments will facilitate the development of the agreed new Campus structures in the prisons, whereby eight separate prison management structures will be combined into three consolidated Campus management structures. The implementation of new Campus Governance management structures, in addition to generating substantial savings at senior management levels, will also greatly facilitate the further development of shared services on each Campus.
The trades/maintenance and healthcare functions, and the security services provided by the Operational Support Group have been identified as possible areas to be delivered on a Campus Shared Services Model and I understand that discussions will be held with your Association in relation to this matter.
In addition, the Agreement provides for schemes of open recruitment.
The Prison Service is committed to the introduction of open recruitment, and as I mentioned already, the Public Appointments Service is in the process of running an open competition for appointments at Campus Governor level for the new campus management structures. This is a significant step forward for the Prison Service and is in line with current best practice internationally.
I welcome the fact that the changes identified in the Transformation Process are now being implemented on the ground, and verifiable savings are being made. In this context, you will be aware of criticism of the Croke Park Agreement from certain quarters and I cannot emphasise strongly enough the need to ensure that the pace of transformation cannot be allowed to falter. Much depends on the continued success of this change process, not only in the Prison Service but across the wider Public Service. I am confident that working together we can build on the hard work done so far and deliver Transformation in the Prison Service.
The Prison Service is a key element of the criminal justice system; prison staff play a pivotal role in maintaining the security of the State and your role is very much appreciated. Both Minister Shatter and I recognise and appreciate the importance of your role and acknowledge that the job can be a difficult and challenging one.
Since your last conference the Irish Prison Service has had a new Director General appointed and I would like to take this opportunity to wish Michael Donnellan well in his appointment. I am aware that Michael has met with the General Secretary and National Officers of your Association and shared with you his vision for the future of the Service.
In this regard, I understand that a new 3 Year Strategic Plan for the Service will be launched by Minister Shatter next Monday.
The new Strategy sets out a roadmap for the Prison Service for the next 3 years and is underpinned by a number of overarching high level objectives, namely:
· Increasing public safety by maintaining safe and secure custody for all those committed by the courts and by reducing reoffending and improving prisoner rehabilitation through the development of a multiagency approach to offending;
· Ensuring Ireland’s compliance with domestic and international human rights obligations and best practice; and
· Delivering reform and implementing change in accordance with the Public Service Agreement and the Integrated Reform Plan for the Justice and Equality Sector.
The Strategy sets a challenging reform agenda for the next three years and the realisation of the vision that it embodies for the Service is very much dependent on buy in from every member of staff in the Service.
Reform cannot be solely driven from the top; it must be driven and embraced by each and every member of staff who must act as the key agents of change.
This is an exciting, albeit challenging, time for the Irish Prison Service and I have no doubt that through working in partnership and cooperation the vision of "a safer community through excellence in the Prison Service" can be delivered.
In conclusion, I again wish to thank you for engaging in the process of change, your willingness to engage and adopt a partnership problem solving approach.
Thank you for your kind invitation to this conference and I wish you every success in your discussions.