A BITTER war of words has erupted between prison officers and the management of the nation's jails over a decision by staff to go ahead with industrial action.
Prison officers stopped work for an hour yesterday at the State's biggest remand jail in Cloverhill, west Dublin, in a row over staffing levels there.
Similar action will be taken at Cloverhill again this afternoon and at Mountjoy next Thursday and Friday.
The two sides are presenting conflicting versions of the background to the dispute.
Officials in the Irish Prison Service (IPS) say that the staff levels at Cloverhill are almost 10 above the number agreed under the Haddington Road deal.
And they blame the perceived staffing difficulties there on the number of officers on sick leave in certain areas.
But this is disputed by the Prison Officers Association (POA), whose national leaders say that while numbers are up in some areas they are down in others.
They also claim that their members are under extra pressure because of increased tension in the jail, whipped up by serious criminals, led by a major gangland figure from Dublin's south inner city.
This has resulted in two serious assaults on officers within the past fortnight.
Cloverhill is generally a remand prison but at the moment includes 91 sentenced inmates.
The IPS said it was extremely disappointed with the decision to press ahead with the one-hour work stoppage and claimed that it had reached an agreement with the POA to call off the protest after talks at the Labour Relations Commission on Wednesday evening.
This was denied by the POA, whose deputy general secretary Jim Mitchell said they had agreed to bring proposals from those talks back to the local branch at Cloverhill to determine if they were acceptable.
But the proposals were rejected by the branch, who decided to continue with the plans for industrial action. He said his association was always available for talks and a further meeting had been scheduled at the LRC for Tuesday.
Mr Mitchell said the action had gone ahead primarily because of a lack of staff on the landings and the knock-on safety issues, with officers concerned about the increased risks to their safety.
Prisoners were locked up in their cells for an additional half hour as a result of yesterday's stoppage and this is expected to be repeated after lunch today.