Civilians to take over NI prison jobs
11/01/2004 - 14:24:39 Online.ie

Civilian staff are being recruited to work at Northern Ireland’s top security jail in jobs currently carried out by prison officers, it was revealed today.

The Prison Service in Northern Ireland is recruiting more than 150 civilian staff to help it re-introduce the separation of loyalist and republican prisoners in Maghaberry Prison.

The civilian staff will take over duties such as guarding the main gates of the Co Antrim prison, the searching of prisoners’ relatives making visits and driving inmates on visits.

The Prison Service insisted that the move was not privatisation, but said civilians, initially temporary staff, would take over from prison officers jobs that “don’t require their special skills“.

Private security firms who currently supply the staff who replaced police officers doing many jobs at Northern Ireland courts are being asked to provide the staff.

The Prison Service said they had to find an extra £7m (€10.1m) to fund the separation of the rival groups.

A spokesman said: “We will require more prison officers to look after the two houses which will house the separated prisoners. We are putting extra officers in because we don’t want a return to the Maze-style structures where the paramilitaries had free association and virtually ran their H-Blocks.”

“What we are proposing is that we will require non-prison officers to do jobs where there is little or no contact with prisoners.”

However, the Prison Officers Association condemned the move which it predicted would lead to “disastrous security breaches” at the prison.

POA chairman Finlay Spratt said: “The idea that untrained staff can carry out searches on the gates and prevent smuggling of drugs or even guns is madness.”

He said there was also the danger of private security firms being intimidated by the paramilitaries into being lax on their searches of visitors.

“Prison officers face daily intimidation so imagine what would happen if the paramilitaries start to exert pressure on the private security firms,” said Mr Spratt.

The separation of dissident republican and loyalist inmates – people such as former UDA chieftain Johnny “Mad Dog” Adair – was recommended in a report last year.

So far 35 loyalists and 25 republicans are in temporary separated accommodation.

Full separation is expected to be ready some time next month.

The POA has been in dispute with the service for over a year over its demands for more security at the homes of officers after it was discovered personal details of some 600 of its members were in the hands of the IRA.

The Northern Ireland Office in Britain has been resisting saying security has been provided to those considered by police to need it and pointing out that current attacks on officers’ homes are by loyalists not the IRA, who are adjudged to be maintaining their ceasefire.

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