Prison officers to ballot for strike over safety fears in jails
Prison officers are preparing to declare strike action for the first time in over 25 years amid serious concern over their safety inside the country's jails.
There are growing tensions between unions and the Irish Prison Service (IPS) over cutbacks in the conditions of employment enjoyed by prison officers. Prison officers have also voiced concern about their safety after the Derek Brockwell escape from Tallaght hospital, during which two prison officers were stabbed.
Sources say workers feel they are working in a more dangerous environment, handling the same number of prisoners with fewer staff than required.
It has now emerged that the Irish Prison Officers Association (IPOA) is balloting members for strike action.
In an indication of the frustration being felt by prison officers, the union believes that up to 95pc of members will vote in favour of strike action.
The mood amongst the association's 3,200 members who serve in 14 state prisons has worsened even further after the Brockwell attackl, during which two prison officers were stabbed.
A union figure said: "Trust has broken down, we had agreed with the IPS that, like other countries, prison officers would have attack dogs for use in riots, then that was unilaterally withdrawn."
Labour senator John Whelan has called on Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald to intervene.
"I am calling on the Minister for Justice, France Fitzgerald, who I have always found to be a reasonable and judicious person, to intervene, so as to head off wholesale and disruptive industrial action by 3,200 prison officers throughout the country's 14 prisons. This is an unsatisfactory scenario and must be defused," he said.
"Prisons are a complex, challenging and highly charged workplace environments. Prison staff, like so many other public sector and frontline workers, have already embraced sweeping reforms."