The Prison Officers Association:
Overall Winners 2014 Public Sector Magazine Award for their Contribution to the Prison Service on behalf of the State
Interview with Mr. Stephen Delaney, President, Prison Officers’ Association
The Prison Officers’ Association was founded in 1947 and represents over 3,250 Prison Staff around the country in each prison including PSEC (Prison Service Escort Corps). The Association represents all Staff up to and including the rank of Deputy Governor and we are well positioned to represent and protect the interests of our members with the valued assistance of our Local Representatives who are based in each location.
The policies of the Association are determined by our Annual Delegate Conference every year which are driven and implemented by the National Executive Council who convene once a month. The daily affairs of the Association are administered by eight National Officers, of which four are full time Officials of the Association.
The Prison Officers’ Association is essentially what its members want it to be – a strong, respected and progressive union – with a sense of fairness applying to all of its 3,250 members. In recent years after some challenging times on the industrial relations front we have developed significant skills in putting forward creative solutions on issues which have contributed to a more stable environment for our members. Where possible we always try to engage for the purpose of influencing the agenda rather than having the agenda imposed on us as workers.
In 2005 the Prison Officers Association was the first organization within the Civil Service to introduce an annualized hour’s agreement for the purpose of protecting our members’ earnings, which is still in operation today.
With our affiliation to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, and membership of the Public Services Committee, we have taken a strong and public position on important issues such as pay which directly affects our members within our prisons. Stephen explains that, “Despite the fact that we managed to maintain our premium payments under the terms of Haddington Road, the reality is, that the financial crisis has had a massive impact on our members and their families where members have taken a 15% reduction in pay “and when this is combined with the redundancy of a partner for example, some families are experiencing immense financial stress.
Stephen says that “Civil and Public Service workers such as Prison Officers must be rewarded for the hardship many of them have experienced for their contribution in restoring the economy of our country. At our Annual Delegate Conference last May we were the first union to highlight the 1 billion euro savings to the Government in the course of present pay agreements and we urged the then Minister to restore Prison Officers pay to 2008 levels as a matter of urgency. This fundamental issue will remain top of our agenda in the coming months” said Stephen.
For the future, Stephen states, “It is vital that the Minister and all the Officials of the Prison Service recognize that in terms of funding and recruitment it is essential that the Prison Service is supported sufficiently. The Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest should be discarded for the long term prospects of the Prison Service. Politicians see no votes in prisons but they should realize that without investment in our Prison Service; we will all pay a much higher societal price in the short and long term. You can only generate so much by way of efficiencies before you destroy the very fabric of the service we are supposedly developing”.
Stephen also outlines “unfortunately today, the threat of violence and accusations of mistreatment for Prison Officers is part of the normal working day. We as the representative body will endeavor to pursue all reasonable measures to create and protect a relatively safe working environment for our members”.
It was for this reason why it was necessary for the Union to serve strike notice on the Irish Prison Service because despite protracted discussions Prison Management were unable to implement sufficient measures to protect the Health and Safety of Staff both at Mountjoy and Cloverhill Prison. Consequently two one hour work stoppages took place in Cloverhill Prison on the 18th and 19th of September with the proposed action for Mountjoy withdrawn due to a facilitated proposal which was drafted with the assistance of the Labour Relations Commission. Presently we are engaged with Senior Management at the LRC for the purpose of finding a resolution to the Cloverhill dispute.
On the international front, our involvement and our relationship outside of Ireland continues to evolve within our affiliation to EUROFEDOP and INFEDOP both well established and respected Public Service Bodies within the European Community. Our General Secretary, Mr. John Clinton currently holds the position of Vice President of Eurofeop and he is also the President of the Justice Trades Council at CESI (European Confederation of Independent Trade Unions). We have also developed good relations, interacting regularly with fellow Prison Officer Bodies in Northern Ireland, Scotland and the UK, where we travelled to support English Prison Officers in their high profile campaign for the right to strike.
Stephen states “As an organization, everything we do is designed to protect our pay, our conditions of service and our members in the workplace. Going forward, Stephen says ‘’the restoration of our pay and the implementation of a Complaint Procedures which is fair to all stakeholders are a priority for the Association”.
He says “To achieve our objectives effective communication with our members is essential. We try to provide easy access to full and part time Officials and we promote a culture of openness and transparency which we aspire to be key features of the organization’’
This Administration has invested heavily in upgrading our communications system which also includes our website (www.poa.ie). We have also developed training programs for our Local Representatives and we will continue to provide financial resources for the provision of accredited training for the purpose of upskilling our local representatives on the ground floor.
There is no doubt that Stephen Delaney and the Association he represents has an exceptional commitment to their work – as recognized by the Public Sector Magazine Awards Panel. Stephen concludes, “I take this opportunity to accept this award on behalf of all our members who work so hard and make such a vital contribution to our society.”