Rottweiller to privatise prisons

Michael McDowell is closing Spike Island and the Curragh prisons, and turning two other facilities into half way house hostels. McDowell claims he has been "forced" into making these decisions because the Prison Officers' Association (POA) has refused to accept a massive cut in wages.

By Denis Keane

McDowell is putting into effect a long term government strategy to close prisons and prepare the way to privatise parts or all of the prison service.

Last April the Minister speaking at the POA conference issued a threat that unless a deal was agreed, within three months, to get rid of overtime that he would impose a solution. There was a mass walkout by delegates in response to "Rottweiler" McDowell's threats.

97% of prison officers rejected the annualised hours offer in a ballot. In reality the Government want the POA to agree to increasing their working week from 39 hours to 47!

McDowell's stampeding ahead with prison closures is making an industrial dispute all the more likely. The closure of Spike Island and the Curragh will result in there being 180 fewer prison spaces. Prisoners are already having to endure overcrowding and in many cases live in Dickensian conditions. McDowell's cuts will make their lives even more intolerable.

The POA executive at it's meeting on the 7 January decided to await the result of another hearing at the LRC on the 12 January. If the LRC talks fail the POA are likely to ballot for action which could lead to a ban on overtime or an all out strike. McDowell is preparing to use the Gardai and the Army as strike breakers, although PDFORRA has already stated that soldiers will be unable to perform the prison officer's duties.

A defeat for the prison officers will not only adversely effect them, but also the prison population as privatisation will result in an even more unsatisfactory prison regime. It will also assist the Government in their plans to introduce privatisation into all sections of the public service from Health to the Department of Social Welfare.

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This article is from the January 2004 edition of Socialist Voice. Back issues are available here.