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Warders consider going on strike as pressure mounts

By Allan Preston

Published 23/11/2016

Loss of confidence: Jenny Palmer
Loss of confidence: Jenny Palmer

Prison officers in Northern Ireland's two main jails have voted for industrial action up to and including strike action - even though they are banned from striking.

Officers were polled this week and those in Maghaberry and Magilligan voted in favour of action, but those in Hydebank were against it.

The NI Prison Service (NIPS) has been under severe pressure. Five prisoners have died in Maghaberry in the last year, four by their own hand.

Finlay Spratt, chair of the Prison Officers' Association (POA), said "disgraceful" under-staffing, low pay and stressful working conditions were to blame.

Prison officers are not permitted to strike but Mr Spratt said officers felt they had no choice.

"They're hiding behind the fact that we can't take industrial action, but I think prison officers are going to show them differently. We will consider everything, we don't want to be here - but we've no option."

UUP MLA for Lagan Valley, Jenny Palmer, said there had been a "major loss of confidence" in prison management and industrial action was the "inevitable result of system failure".

"Promises made regarding pay and conditions have not been met, staffing levels have been allowed to run down, safety in our prisons has become a major issue and officers have been targeted and even murdered on the outside," she said.

She urged the Prison Service to take warders' concerns seriously. "They are the ones in the frontline, and they know what they are talking about," she said.

Prison Service Acting Director General Phil Wragg said: "The NIPS is disappointed to learn from the media that the POA (NI) is considering formal industrial action. We are seeking an urgent meeting with them to discuss the full range of issues."

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