£60m redundancy deal for jail staff
Prison officers in Northern Ireland who served during the Troubles have been offered a £60 million redundancy package as part of a major modernisation of the prison service.
Stormont Justice Minister David Ford said it is hoped that around 540 officers aged over 50 will leave the 1,800-strong ranks of uniformed prison staff.
The prison service, shaped by the decades of violence, has long been accused of falling short of the needs of the 21st century.
The major overhaul planned for the prison system has been compared to the transformation in policing where a decade ago the Royal Ulster Constabulary made way for the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
An individual prison officer with 40 years of service, on a salary of £37,000, could receive as much as £120,250, plus an annual pension of £18,500.
But Mr Ford said the redundancy package was within his department's budget and struck the correct balance between delivering reform and recognising the service of prison staff who saw 29 of their colleagues killed during the Troubles.
The minister said: "Successive reports, including the most recent Owers report, have stated that the Northern Ireland Prison Service has too many staff and if we are to reform the service, then staffing levels have to be addressed.
"The publication of this scheme today underlines my commitment to fundamental transformation of the Northern Ireland prison service."
Under the reform programme, up to 400 new staff will be recruited, while existing staff will be retrained.
Officials have forecast that the departure of long-serving staff and the introduction of new recruits could contribute to a saving of £180 million over the next 10 years.