Prison officers in 'wildcat' strike over the return of violent inmate
Published 25/08/2010 | 05:00
THE country's biggest jail was shut down yesterday afternoon after staff refused to work because of fears for their safety.
Almost 650 inmates were locked in their cells in Mountjoy Prison as a result of the unofficial industrial action by members of the Prison Officers Association (POA).
But the walk-out was sparked off by the return to Mountjoy of violent prisoner Leroy Dumbrell (24), who is serving an eight-year sentence for an unprovoked attack on a man walking his dog. The assault resulted in the victim losing the sight in one of his eyes.
Gardai and troops were put on stand-by as a small group of prison officers provided emergency cover inside the walls of the prison complex.
The action was called off at teatime -- four hours later -- following talks between senior POA officials and management.
The association is to ballot its members on taking official industrial action in the coming days.
The row between the staff and management centres on the staffing levels at the recently re-opened separation unit.
Dumbrell, who had 57 previous convictions when he was sentenced, had been previously held in Mountjoy but was transferred to Castlerea Prison after allegedly being involved in a near-riot in which eight prisoners and four officers were injured in December last year. Two inmates were hospitalised.
Last week, the High Court ruled that Dumbrell, from Emmet Road, Inchicore, Dublin, had been held in unlawful solitary confinement at Castlerea for more than five months.
Mr Justice John Hedigan said Dumbrell should be detained in future in accordance with prison rules and said it was not acceptable that Dumbrell should be kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, with an hour's exercise break.
As a result of the ruling, Dumbrell was returned to Mountjoy yesterday morning and placed in the recently re-opened separation unit, which was intended to house between 50 and 60 inmates under protection.
However, staff argued that Dumbrell was a disruptive prisoner and his deployment was a breach of their agreement with the management on staffing levels in the unit.
Earlier yesterday, senior POA officials had held talks with the Irish Prison Service over their concerns for staff safety in the separation unit following an attack there last Friday when an officer was slashed in the face with a razor blade and received 16 stitches.
The POA later accused the Mountjoy management of taking a decision designed to create conflict and said it was extremely disappointing that, despite numerous requests, the Prison Service had refused to meet national officers of the POA to resolve the issues.
It called on Justice Minister Dermot Ahern to intervene and stop prison safety being jeopardised.
Last night, the Irish Prison Service (IPS) condemned what it called "this wildcat industrial action", which, it said, was in total contravention of all industrial relations practices and procedures.
The IPS said the local POA branch had called a meeting at lunchtime and, although they were addressed by a chief officer and an assistant governor, they remained outside the prison after 2pm.
The IPS confirmed that during the afternoon a reduced staff level, which normally covers periods of prisoner lockup, remained on duty.
The inmates were kept in their cells and visits were rescheduled.
After the action was called off, pending a ballot, it was agreed that Dumbrell be accommodated in the separation unit.