Speaking at the Prison Officers Association Annual Delegate Conference in Athlone today, Gabriel Keaveny, Assistant General Secretary said, “One of the biggest concerns of prison officers, apart from the threat of vicious assaults on themselves and their families, is being the subject of a vexatious complaint. Such a complaint, with no basis whatever, can bring the career of a good and hardworking officer to a halt. This is just not right. In fact the better you do your job as a prison officer, complying with rules and procedures, the more likely you are to become the victim of a vexatious complaint”.
Keaveny continued, “Prison Officers continue to be the subject of vexatious complaints with no form of redress for the Officer concerned. And everyone in the system knows that most are vexatious complaints – and yet we go through process after process to prove that the complaints have no basis – and through all of this the prison officer is in limbo. When the complaints are shown to be vexatious and most are; there is no issue whatever for the person making the complaint. He can go away and make another complaint the following week; as has happened”.
“On this issue we have been invited by the Ombudsman to a seminar with a number of speakers on this very subject. But before we get overenthusiastic at the prospect of this process being addressed I wish to draw your attention to the recent comments of the Chairwoman of the Garda Ombudsman Commission, High Court Judge Mary Ellen Ring.
Commenting on this very matter in the Gardaí, Judge Ring stated that – the Garda Ombudsman’s Office had an appalling success rate in bringing prosecutions against people alleged to have made vexatious complaints against Gardaí”.
“While we understand that to gain a criminal conviction requires a high level of proof we must accept that such complaints are for the most part being used as a tool to undermine the rule of law in prisons. If there is to be an Ombudsman for the prisons their credibility will be tested on this issue alone. The excessive scrutiny that our members have been subjected to under the most trying of conditions will have to not only abate but be seen to have abated”
Keaveny concluded, “Morale is at an all-time low with little or no job satisfaction which is another common ground we have with the Gardaí. Last year we made it clear to the Minister that if you supported Prison Officers in our daily lives that we would reciprocate. We all expected this to be a tough job; we understood that our working environment is the hardest in the country; we understood that along with other civil servants that we would suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous speculation- only temporarily though- but what we did not expect was that every facet of our working lives would be teased apart on the flimsiest of allegations with no tariff for the accuser”.