Belfast Telegraph

Protect our courageous prison staff

By Paul Givan

Last week's dissident attack highlighted the dangers prison officers work and live under.

They serve and protect our community and when they are attacked it is an attack on all of us.

Working in the Prison Service is no ordinary job, but it is carried out by extraordinary people. Every day they deal with people who challenge authority, and they are constantly on your guard.

Failure by management and the Department of Justice to recruit sufficient personnel has left the organisation stretched, placing pressure on front line officers.

The use of violence by terrorists against prison officers is a tried and tested technique that has yielded results from a weak and capitulating leadership. It is little wonder, then, that this tactic has once again been used in Roe House at HMP Maghaberry.

The sacrifices made by prison officers and their families may not be fully understood and appreciated by the public. I know from personal experience what it is like growing up as a son of a now-retired prison officer.

Thankfully, no one in my family who served in the Prison Service lost their lives during the terrorist campaign, but I know the pressures faced by all who have worked and who continue to work in the service today.

My father sheltered us from much of the reality of what it was like working in the Maze during periods such as the hunger strikes, and the pressure he faced during the dirty protests.

He and another officer were targeted on the same day with letter bombs. My father's was a hoax, but the other seriously injured his colleague.

He lived with the knowledge that the IRA knew his address. However, when prisoners threatened to kill him and our family, dad kept it from us.

We had a wonderful home life, but we knew our dad had a very different job to many others.

Prison officers deserve much better from the Department of Justice for the price being paid for their service.

Every member of the public can show their support and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the men and women who put on the Prison Service uniform to defend and protect us all.

  • Paul Givan is DUP MLA for Lagan Valley

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