I propose to take Questions Nos. 853 and 856 together.
My preference would be for Shelton Abbey to continue to be operated by the Irish Prison Service within a prison system that functions on a sensible, reasonable and cost-effective basis. Achieving such a system will require significant cost restructuring in all prisons and places of detention on foot of proposals put to the Prison Officers' Association for new staff attendance arrangements and the elimination of overtime working.
The Government decision of 11 November last involves the progressive implementation, from 1 January 2004, of several measures in the event of failure to reach agreement with the Prison Officers' Association, or POA, on the proposed change agenda aimed at eliminating overtime payments and reducing other costs in the Prison Service. Those measures include the making of arrangements for the transformation of the open centres at Loughan House, Blacklion, County Cavan, and Shelton Abbey, Arklow, County Wicklow, into post-release centres for the reintegration into society of prisoners on conditional temporary release. My Department and the Irish Prison Service are finalising the arrangements which need to be put in place to give effect to that aspect of the Government decision.
The conversion of Shelton Abbey to a new post-release facility will result in significant savings, mainly arising from reductions in the pay bill. For the year ending 31 December 2002, the most recent year for which financial information is available, Shelton Abbey incurred €600,000 in overtime payments to prison officers.
Under the new proposed arrangement, that overtime will be eliminated. In addition, the current Prison Service complement of 41 staff will be replaced with fewer non-prison staff at significantly reduced rates of pay owing to the fact that the work to be carried out at the centre will be based on more comparable and realistic national work models. That will break the link to the types of security and staff resources required in a prison situation.
As outlined previously, I have no desire to take away the running of Shelton Abbey from the Irish Prison Service. I want the POA to agree to a reasonable and sustainable cost structure for the continued operation by its members of our prisons and the open centres. I met with representatives of the POA on 20 November last, and discussed my position on the negotiations. Agreement was subsequently reached with the Prison Officers' Association to employ the services of the Labour Relations Commission. Discussions are still ongoing, and I very much hope that a mutually acceptable way forward can be found at that forum.
However, if a consensus is not possible, I will have no option but to proceed with the closure of Shelton Abbey place of detention, and to make arrangements for the alternative operation of the centre. The Prison Service will arrange for the transfer of prison officers from those locations to other prison institutions.