BBC NEWS | Northern Ireland | Talks to resolve prison row

Talks to resolve prison row

The unions are threatening strike action at prisons across the UK
Northern Ireland's prison management and unions are to meet in London for talks to avert strike action at jails across the UK.

This follows the threat of industrial action by prison officers angry over security arrangements at the homes of Northern Ireland staff.

On Tuesday it emerged up to £20,000 was being spent on security for each of the 1,400 prison officers whose details were discovered in the hands of the IRA.

It is illegal for prison officers to strike, but the union has insisted it will go ahead with the move anyway, without a ballot.

Prisons management, the union at local and national level and the prisons minister Jane Kennedy are expected to take part in Wednesday's talks.

The talks will discuss the security response which followed the discovery in October 2002 that the IRA had acquired the personal details of many officers.

Jane Kennedy said no more money was available for security

However, the union says the £20,000 being spent on security measures at many of their members' homes is not enough.

Finlay Spratt of the Prison Officers' Association described the security package as "inadequate".

He said the measures had been "imposed" on prison officers and was "appalled" that the director general of the Prison Service in Northern Ireland, Peter Russell, had publicly spelt out the type of security recently installed in homes.

Mrs Kennedy has so far refused to spend more on home security for prison officers, which has led to a stand-off ahead of the talks.

On Tuesday, Mr Russell said he hoped things were not moving in that direction but added that such was the mood among officers, he could not be confident of a positive outcome on Wednesday.

In the continuing security row, officers twice left their posts in November.


Police officers were called into the jails and the chief constable has presented that bill for police time to the prison service.

However, they want the union to meet the costs.

On Tuesday, Mr Russell confirmed the service had taken out a writ to recover the money from the POA.

Industrial action was threatened in October following attacks on five members of staff at the high security Maghaberry prison outside Lisburn, County Antrim.

A number of homes of serving and former prison officers have also been attacked.

These attacks were linked to a prisoners' dispute at the jail.

In September, a review of safety at Maghaberry recommended separating republican and loyalist prisoners.

The move was introduced in the wake of violent clashes between rival groups in the jail and in the face of a "dirty protest" by a group of dissident republican prisoners.

As well as paramilitary prisoners, Maghaberry houses male and female prisoners, whether they are convicted or on remand, and a number of asylum seekers.

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