Speech by Mr. Charles Flanagan, TD, Minister for Justice and Equality

Official Opening of Refurbished & Extended Irish Prison Service College, Portlaoise

Friday 9th November 2018.

Check against Delivery

 

Director General Michael Donnellan, Governor David Clarke, invited guests, colleagues,

I am delighted to join with you here today to perform the official opening of the refurbished and extended Irish Prison Service College in Portlaoise.  It is of course going to be known as Brian Stack House, in honour of the late Chief Officer Brian Stack and in that regard I am really pleased to see that members of the Stack family, including Brian’s wife Sheila, are with us today– thank you for coming; you are all very welcome.

I want to talk about this fine facility, but first, I wish to pay tribute to Michael Donnellan, our outgoing Director General of the Irish Prison Service. I want to acknowledge his contribution to the Service and to citizens of this State, both over the past 7 years as Head of the IPS, and throughout a distinguished career in the public service. 

Michael, since my appointment as Minister, I have witnessed your progressive and compassionate approach first hand as you have led a significant culture change in the penal system. In addition you have delivered vast infrastructural and rehabilitative improvements to the prison environment and have championed a joined up approach to the management of offenders.

 

Your achievements have been recognised internationally and we were all proud when you were awarded the International Corrections and Prisons Association’s Head of Service Award last year. You will be missed by all your colleagues in the criminal justice system and I wish you all the best with what I am sure will be an exciting next chapter for you.

Support for staff  was one of the key strategic objectives included in the current Irish Prison Service Strategic Plan.  Ensuring that staff are supported at all levels is indeed vitally important and that support includes provision of world class training facilities

And so, the importance of the IPS College in Portlaoise cannot be overestimated.  Each new recruit who reports for duty with the Irish Prison Service, beginning, we hope, a long career as a prison officer, will walk through the doors of Brian Stack House on their very first day. It is vital that they see, through the provision of these modern facilities here in Portlaoise, that this is an organisation that values its staff, which supports its staff, and is willing to invest in its staff.

The IPS College is a flagship building for the organisation and is the location most visited by policy makers and other stakeholders. Many agencies within the criminal justice system use this facility for their training. Staff from the Probation Service, the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service and an Garda Síochána are here routinely. In addition, Brian Stack House is where the Service has staged national conferences and events and has hosted delegations from Europe and beyond.

So it is well used.  Indeed over the past 2 years 250 new prison staff have commenced their training in this facility and I will have the pleasure of meeting the most recent class who have their passing out ceremony later today.

Being a prison officer is a challenging job and the training received in this college in areas such as human rights; criminology, ethics, health and safety and law prepares our officers for the many challenges that they will face as they serve in our country’s prisons.

I have just had the opportunity to view the works, which commenced in June 2017.  These include the additional facilities provided by the very impressive 850 square metre extension. I have seen the new reception area, and also the new library, 5 new meeting rooms, offices and study booths.   In addition, the project included the complete renovation and modernisation of the existing building including the refurbishment of the 53 self-contained bedrooms, the staff restaurant and the provision of new locker rooms and a staff gym.

It was a major undertaking, but its successful conclusion ensures that the IPS College reflects the organisation’s ethos as modern, innovative and dynamic.

I would like to acknowledge the work of the project team in delivering this impressive facility. I would also like to thank the main contractors, PJ Hegarty & Sons and the lead sub-contractor Doyle Construction. The project represents an almost €7million investment by the Irish Prison Service in our prison staff and in their future but it has provided us with a facility that will serve the Irish Prison Service well for many years to come. 

And we are not just investing here… this year, in addition to the refurbishment in Portlaoise, we also saw the opening of a second training centre in West Dublin.  This again, is evidence of the Irish Prison Service’s commitment to providing top class training facilities for its staff.

I think it’s important to note too, the recent and considerable investment made by the Service to modernise living conditions for prisoners. That also means the modernisation of working conditions for staff, and of course these important improvements to the working environment have been further enhanced by recent investment in supports for prison staff including the introduction of initiatives such as the 24/7 counselling service. 

The Prison Service is committed to ensuring that all staff feel safe and supported in their working environment. Earlier today I visited the new National Violence Reduction Unit in the Midlands Prison and met with the staff who will be based there. 

The establishment of the Unit marks a significant change in how the Irish Prison Service engages with those prisoners who represent the highest risk of violence to staff, to other prisoners and to our communities. 

This new approach will make the prison environment safer for all those who work and live in it. Its aim is to meet each prisoner’s complex needs, through improving their psychological health, their wellbeing, and their behaviour in a centre of excellence operated by you our highly motivated, highly trained and highly competent staff.

To conclude I wish to again thank all those who have been involved in delivering this ambitious project.  I would like to acknowledge Governor Clarke and all the team based in the IPS College for your contribution to the Irish Prison Service and for your patience and flexibility during this project. I wish you - and all those who report for training - well in this new accommodation.

Thank you.