Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland Prison Service staff overwhelmingly Protestant

By Eamon Sweeney

More than three-quarters of people employed by the Northern Ireland Prison Service identify themselves as Protestant, new figures show.

The report, released yesterday by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, examined equality measures across the Civil Service based on community background, gender, age, disability and ethnicity.

It revealed that of the 1,230 people employed in the Prison Service, 957 (77%) said they saw themselves as coming from the Protestant community compared to 166, or 13%, from the Catholic community. Nearly 9% did not declare their background.

Ivor Dunne, chair of the Northern Ireland Prison Officers’ Association, said religion was not an issue among workers.

“There are three religions in Northern Ireland: Catholic, Protestant and security forces, and the other two can turn on the last one at the drop of a hat,” he said. “I have been in the Prison Service for 30 years and I have never once encountered religious bias. I wouldn’t stand for it. I would encourage anyone from any religion to join the Prison Service.”

A Prison Service spokesperson said it “is committed to ensure that as an organisation it reflects the community it serves. In any of its recruitment campaigns the Prison Service seek to encourage applications from all sections of the community. Ultimately appointments to the NIPS are made on merit.”

In the Civil Service overall, the proportion of Catholic staff was highest in the most junior grades and the lowest in the most senior grades. Since 2000, Catholic representation rose by 7.3%.

Overall, the community background breakdown of the organisation is similar to that of the economically active population of Northern Ireland — which is 52.6% Protestant in employment and 47.4% Catholic.

In terms of overall religious breakdown, excluding those whose community background was ‘not determined’ during the recruitment process, 51% of the Civil Service is Protestant and 49% is Catholic.

Women employees now outnumber their male counterparts overall in the Civil Service, but men still dominate the higher ranks of the organisation.

While men continue to outnumber women in more senior posts, there’s been a significant increase in women filling roles at grade five or above.

For example, in 2000 11% of females held these positions, but the latest figures show that, as of this year, almost 38% of the jobs are filled by women.

The Civil Service has an older age profile than that of the economically active population here. The average age of staff has increased substantially from 39 in 2000 to 46 in 2017.

The voluntary redundancy scheme accounted for a majority (66.2%) of the almost 2,000 people who left the Civil Service in 2016, and those who left fell into the older age category with 68.5% aged 50 or over.

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