282. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Justice and Equality further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 548 and 550 of 7 November 2017, when the information sought will be supplied; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7320/18]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): I am informed by the Director General of the Irish Prison Service that it is an occupational requirement for employment in the prison service that persons employed therein are fully physically capable of meeting the challenges of the job and are available to fully undertake the range of functions that they may be called upon to perform.
While the Irish Prison Service will endeavour to provide reasonable accommodations, within the constraints provided by the prison environment, it should be noted that there is no onus on the Service to provide such accommodations and this is reflected in the employment equality legislation, viz. Section 37 of the 1998 Employment Act:
“It is an occupational requirement for employment in the Garda Síochána, Irish Prison Service or any emergency service that persons employed therein are fully competent and available to undertake, and fully capable of undertaking, the range of functions that they may be called upon to perform so that the operational capacity of the Garda Síochána or the service concerned may be preserved.”
The Irish Prison Service is committed to the provision of workplace rehabilitation that supports and enables injured or sick employees to remain at work or return to the workplace at as early a time as possible. Re-familiarisation with the workplace, or ‘easing back in’, can be very important where a staff member has been absent with illness for a lengthy period.
In order to ensure these posts are kept available for as many staff as possible to aid in their recuperation and return to duty, the Irish Prison Service introduced the Policy for Accommodations (Rehabilitative/Restricted Duties) in July 2014.
This Policy allows for staff to return from sick leave on ‘lighter duties’ where the CMO has confirmed that they are likely to be in a position to return to full duties within 3 months. The Irish Prison Service does not have capacity to accommodate staff on longer periods of these duties as there are very limited posts available. In addition to the Policy these posts are required for pregnant staff.
Extensions to a period of recuperative/restricted duties can only be considered in exceptional circumstances where the serving prison officer has the potential to return to full time duties. There are currently 6 staff who have had their period of recuperative/restricted duties extended, on the advice of the CMO, to over 6 months. Their cases have been referred again to the CMO with a view to them returning to full duties in the coming weeks.
In response to the Deputy’s second query, there are 5 staff who are on long term restricted duties. Their cases predate the introduction of the Irish Prison Service Accommodations(Rehabilitative/Restricted Duties) Policy. Question No. 283 answered with Question No. 273.