Belfast Telegraph

Danger money for prison officers due to dissident threat

By Michael McHugh

More than 1,000 prison officers in Northern Ireland are to receive danger money because of the threat posed by dissident republicans.

In November 2012, a warder was shot dead by extremists opposed to the peace process.

David Black was attacked as he drove along a motorway in Co Armagh on his way to work at the Maghaberry high security jail.

The risk remains severe, with dissidents recently increasing the frequency of their efforts to try and kill members of the security forces.

An extra £1,320 a year is expected to be paid to prison guards, as an emergency allowance, in addition to their normal salaries.

A report from the independent Prison Service Pay Review Body said: "From the perspective of those staff and families, the precise level of the threat is irrelevant.

"Any threat of deadly violence will affect people's lives."

The review body's recommendation still has to be rubber-stamped by the ministerial Executive at Stormont.

It applies to staff who have joined the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) since 2002, including more than 350 employed during the last year-and-a-half.

The report said: "There is clear evidence of a real threat to NIPS operational staff. The murder of prison officer Black in 2012 was incontrovertible proof of that.

"Further evidence comes from the frequent security warnings issued to NIPS operational staff, the fact that NIPS makes available security measures to staff, and information on the assessed level of threat.

"We are satisfied that the threat is genuine and affects NIPS operational staff and their families and, like the POA (Prison Officers' Association), we commend NIPS for the security measures it already makes available."

Prison officers still incur extra costs because they have to vary their route to work to make targeting them more difficult and pay for electricity for security lighting at their homes.

The review team said the extra payment should continue until the security situation improves to the extent that it is no longer justified.

"We calculate that this will cost NIPS £1.6m a year and we believe this figure to be affordable, not least because we expect payment of an allowance to lead to an improvement in staff motivation and morale."

Unlike the police and armed forces in Northern Ireland, who are at risk both on and off duty, the threat from paramilitaries against prison officers is confined to when they are off duty and travelling to and from work, the report said.

During Northern Ireland's 30-year conflict, prison officers were attacked by paramilitaries.

During the republican hunger strikes in the 1980s, warders were targeted by the IRA.

Mr Black was the 30th prison worker to be murdered since 1974.

The last prison officer killed was Jim Peacock, who died on September 1, 1993.

DUP MLA Paul Givan said that some warders had received specific threats, requiring them to take precautionary measures which had a financial and social impact.

"I have spoken with many of the staff concerned, particularly following the murder of prison officer David Black by republican terrorists," he said.

"Many felt the Prison Service and Department of Justice were failing to recognise the impact of these threats upon them.

"Supporting their campaign, I have raised this issue through the Assembly, and it must now be a priority for the NI Prison Service, working with the Prison Officers' Association, to reach an agreement and make available the financial resources needed."

Belfast Telegraph


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