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Written Answers. - Prison Staff.

Thursday, 17 October 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 555 No. 4

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 48. Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin Information on Breeda Moynihan-Cronin Zoom on Breeda Moynihan-Cronin  asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell  the proposals he has to reduce the very high level of overtime in the prison service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18503/02]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell): Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell The prison service has for a number of years been operating with an ever growing dependence on overtime. In 2001 the cost of overtime was nearly 30% of the overall pay costs for the service. This overtime requirement arises because the level of staff serving is inadequate to meet the 24 hour seven day week needs of the service, based on existing agreed staffing arrangements. In particular it has been necessary to resort to overtime working to cover prisoner escorts, staff leave, staff training, sick absence and staff shortfalls.

Since my appointment as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, it has been my stated aim to address the high overtime costs in the prison service. In meetings which I have had with both the management of the Irish Prison Service and with the national officers of the Prison Officers Association, the union which represents the majority of prison staff, I have made it clear that I consider this issue to be a priority for my Department and that I am determined to see it addressed in the short term rather than the long term. At my request, officials of the Irish Prison Service, who have been engaged in a detailed exploration of alternative working arrangements for the management of prisons and places of detention, are putting together a package of pro[1161] posals on a new more efficient staffing system on which to consult the staff side.

This work is well advanced and has been greatly facilitated by detailed prison by prison recommendations on more efficient prison staffing by an expert management staffing organisation review team, which completed its work last year. Since then, management has engaged in a consultative process with staff representatives with a view to progressing how the SORT recommendations could be implemented. These consultations have reached the stage where management is now in a position to draw together a new staffing framework to implement SORT recommendations and at the same time reverse the service's dependency on overtime working.

This process is both lengthy and complex but is being afforded a high level of priority by the management of the Irish Prison Service so that realistic proposals for change in the short term can be discussed with staff representatives with a view to significant advances being made early in the new year in reducing and eliminating overtime dependence.

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