Officers at gates as Northern Ireland prisons dispute escalates

HMP Maghaberry near Lisburn
HMP Maghaberry near Lisburn

An industrial dispute involving staff at Northern Ireland’s three prisons has escalated with prison officers gathering at the entrance gates before commencing work.

Around 80 officers are reported to have held an open air meeting outside the Maghaberry high security facility near Lisburn with similar protests at Magilligan and Hydebank Wood.

The officers’ trade union has claimed that staff shortages, the failure to negotiate an increase in officers’ risk allowance, and the lack of progress on a proposed 37-hour working week have resulted in a shortage of “goodwill”.

Last month the Prison Officers Association (POA) warned that many aspects of the prison routine could be disrupted once staff refused to work overtime from October 17 onward.

At the time, a spokesman for the NI Prison Service said: “All establishments have contingency plans in place and these ensure that the impact upon the operation of prisons and the impact upon prisoners is kept to a minimum.”

On Friday morning (Nov 4), POA chairman Finlay Spratt stressed that the officers “were not on strike,” but held the protests to highlight a lack of progress by the prison service in dealing with the POA’s pay claim.

It is understood the staff meetings resulted in the officers involved being up to one hour late for their shift starting time.

Mr Spratt has warned of further industrial action.

“There is an escalation, but up until this point in time that is as far as we are going. But it will escalate,” he added.