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Sunday 17 February 2019

Prison chiefs quizzed over whistleblower claims by Dáil watchdog

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Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Irish Prison Service staff made 25 potential protected disclosures and the body is tackling an "unacceptable" level of sick leave, TDs have been told.

The Dáil's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) also probed whistleblower allegations as it quizzed Justice Department secretary general Aidan O'Driscoll and the new Irish Prison Service (IPS) director general Caron McCaffrey.

Mr O'Driscoll said there had been media reports on allegations made by a serving prison officer that there has been unauthorised surveillance at prisons.

He told TDs the matter was before the courts and couldn't be publicly discussed.

Mr O'Driscoll later said there had been 25 potential protected disclosures between 2015 and 2018. Nine were deemed not to be protected disclosures on assessment. Four were investigated and 12 were ongoing probes.

He told TDs new systems had been put in place for protected disclosures. Asked by Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry why people were still coming forward, Mr O'Driscoll replied: "There's a few thousand staff in the prison service… a relatively small number of people have come forward and made quite significant claims and allegations". These were being examined.

New IPS director general: Caron McCaffrey
New IPS director general: Caron McCaffrey

Ms McCaffrey said staff being willing to "speak up and report wrongdoing was a sign of a healthy organisation".

Later Mr MacSharry raised allegations that three Prison Service-owned vehicles had gone missing. Ms McCaffrey said such allegations would be investigated.

Labour TD Alan Kelly asked about suggestions that catering services for prisons had been used for outside events. He asked if there had been a cost to the Exchequer.

Ms McCaffrey said she would have to come back with specifics, but that catering services were used to keep costs down for events such as annual report launches.

Mr Kelly said he was referring to birthday parties like twenty-firsts and it needed to be determined if it had happened or else "debunk the myths".

Ms McCaffrey also said there was an absentee rate of 15.7 days a year among employees in 2017. She said sick leave levels were low compared to other countries, adding prison staff worked in an "extremely challenging environment".

"Notwithstanding this, the Irish Prison Service is tackling the unacceptable level of sick leave," Ms McCaffrey said.

She said supports were being provided for work-related causes and there is "focused, structured management of all absences to identify and reduce absenteeism".

Irish Independent

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