Request for prison staff opposed on grounds of finance

State Papers 1986: Alan Dukes sought 352 extra jail staff in context of huge overtime

A request by minister for justice Alan Dukes to increase the number of staff in the State's prisons by 352 to help alleviate a worsening overcrowding crisis was strongly opposed by the ministers for the public service finance. The system was also effectively being run on overtime.

Mr Dukes brought a memo to government on July 29th seeking 352 extra staff, inclusive of 85 new posts recently sanctioned. He also sought to increase the allocation for overtime in 1986 from £8.4 million to £13.71 million.

The full-year cost in respect of the 352 staff required would be £4.277 million and the saving on overtime would be of the order of £3 million in a full year.

The minister said that, apart from training and trades, the posts for which new staff were needed were, of necessity, being staffed on an interim basis on overtime in the interest of security.


In some prisons, officers were working up to 30 and 40 hours’ overtime per week each.

Mr Dukes said such levels were “hard to justify” and gave rise to security risks.

Both the department of the public service and minister for finance John Bruton opposed the request.

Prisoner population

In his memo to the government, Mr Dukes noted that, between 1984 and 1986, the daily average number of prisoners had risen from 1,594 to about 1,900 – an increase of almost 20 per cent.

During that time, the number of serving staff rose from 1,587 to 1,649 – an increase of just 4 per cent.

Such a rapid increase and associated problems caused “serious difficulties” for the Prison Service. Trends at the time suggested the numbers could be as high as 2,200 within 18 months.

Mountjoy Prison in Dublin was down daily about 30-40 posts and St Patrick’s 20 posts. At Arbour Hill, where there were 85 officers to staff 74 fixed posts as well as escorts and to cover sick leave and annual leave, the position was “intolerable”.

An attempted escape from Portlaoise by republican prisoners the previous November, and problems associated with prisoners who were "antibody positive" for the Aids virus had since given rise to a need for 81 more officers.

In its observations, the department, then headed by Ruairí Quinn, noted the government had only earlier that month sanctioned an extra 85 posts, on the basis the majority of departments would reduce their numbers “by way of an offset”.

“There should be no question of now further increasing the staffing level of the Prison Service,” his department said in its observations.

‘Inherent weaknesses’

It also expressed concern about “inherent weaknesses” in the system which gave rise to staffing demands. No further staffing should be conceded, for example, until clerical and stores work were civilianised.

Mr Dukes said he regretted the department did “not seem to have even attempted any proper analysis” of his case and said the comments betrayed “a serious lack of understanding of the issues involved”.

Minister for finance John Bruton said he fully supported the view of the minister for the public service that there should be no question of any further increase beyond the 85 staff already sanctioned at present.

Mr Dukes said he appreciated the minister’s reluctance to support his proposal given the worsening budgetary situation. He believed nevertheless that his proposals were necessary in the context of the demands being placed on the prison system.

It was subsequently decided by the Cabinet that the three ministers should meet “to consider the basis for a settlement” in relation to staffing and overtime. Before the year’s end, 184 new posts in the service were sanctioned by the government.

Separately, a letter on the files of attorney general John Rodgers from the Prison Officers' Association indicated he met officers from Mountjoy on November 4th. Prison officers proposed "protective legislation" for public sector workers, similar to that which existed in the private sector.

The association also sought the AG’s views on the poor physical conditions of prisons.