CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

 

Opening remarks by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald TD

Seanad Eireann

Commencement Matter

 

3 March, 2015

I wish to thank Senator Whelan for raising this issue and for affording me this opportunity to address the House and outline some factual points relating to the operation and staffing of the Prison Service.

On the issue of staff numbers, the factual position is that prisoner numbers have reduced by 814 or 18% since February 2011. This in fact compares to just a 3% reduction in prison staff over the same period.

Over the last 4 years, significant reform has been implemented in the Prison Service, which not only served to modernise the service to ensure that it operates in the most effective and efficient way possible, but has allowed the service operate with reduced staffing levels that ensured the safety of all prison service personnel.

I wish to pay tribute to all involved in these important changes. The driving force behind the progress made to date has been the constructive engagement and consultation with the Prison Officer’s Association on all aspects of the reform process under the Joint Task Reviews as provided for in the Croke Park Agreement.

IPS management are fully committed to ensuring that staff have a safe an dignified environment in which to carry out their important duties. In this regard, I would like to highlight a key commitment in the IPS Strategic Plan 2012-2015 which is the Dignity at Work Programme, a major change programme which is directly concerned with improving the workplace to the benefit of staff.

Under this programme, the main areas addressed included communication, professional development and training, equality and diversity, well being at work and acceptable behaviour. Some of the initiatives included under this programme included; a well being at work policy and a framework to promote the well-being of staff; and the establishment of local workplace forums and to improve communication and consultation with frontline staff.

While recognising the achievements to date, the fact remains that significant savings and reforms as set out in the Haddington Road Agreement have yet to be achieved to ensure that the sector delivers on its commitments.

Unfortunately, a number of implementation issues have arisen in respect of the Croke Park and Haddington Road agreements in recent months but I can assure the House that management have at all times continued to engage with the Prison Officers Association on these issues through the well established mechanisms contained within those agreements, which provide a framework for parties to address and resolve issues of implementation as they arise, including extensive discussions under the chairmanship of the LRC.

Since becoming Minister I have; and indeed continue to, keep these matters under discussion with the Director General of the IPS and his management team.

I have also been in contact with the General Secretary of the Prison Officer’s Association on these issues, in which I reaffirmed IPS Management's commitment to engaging with the Association.