Army and gardai 'being trained to run prisons in case of strike action'
SOLDIERS and gardai are being trained to take over in prisons in the event of a strike.
The union representing officers have warned that a national prison strike over pay and conditions could be as close as six weeks away.
The president of the Prison Officers' Association (POA) Stephen Delaney has slammed moves by the Irish Prison Service (IPS) to train the defence forces and gardai take over in the event of a strike as "provocative".
But the Director General of the IPS, Michael Donnellan, defended the move and said it would be "reckless" if, as a prison service, they did not have a plan in place.
He referenced the fact that prison officers took industrial action last September in Cloverhill by leaving work for an hour.
"We always have to take a contingency plan," Mr Donnellan said.
He made his comments at the annual POA conference held in Dromoland in Co Clare.
Meanwhile Mr Delaney said that industrial action was not what prison officers wanted, but if all else failed they may have no choice.
"We believe the IPS has been very provocative in recent times by bringing gardai into the prisons for the purpose of instructing them how to carry out the functions of a prison officer," he said yesterday.
"They have been bringing them in the past few months, showing them around, showing them where the kitchens are, where the keys are and how the prisons operate.
"The army and gardai turn up in civilian clothes. This will pit us against the gardai," he added.
Mr Delaney also said that Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald's officials had ignored agreed positions in relation to saving a further €3m after already making savings of €9m under the Haddington Road Agreement.
"We haven't given any notice of strike action and we hope not to do so. However, we will defend our interests," said Mr Delaney.
"We don't need to ballot our members again, so in six weeks you are looking at a very real prospect of a strike in the prison service."
"In the event of the doomsday scenario, we would have to withdraw labour," he added.
Mr Donnellan of the IPS said it was agreed under Haddington Road Agreement with the POA that there would be over €12m in savings.
"We're still shy of over €3m of that and all we are trying to do is implement the agreement," he said.
"My pay and everyone else's pay was deducted at source. Prison officers pay wasn't and the agreement was that there would be a number of reforms and savings through the pay bill."