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Prison officers defend withdrawal of 'goodwill' duties over concerns about when they'll be vaccinated

Officers say they have received no response from the government about the issue since December.

Mountjoy Prison in Dublin
Mountjoy Prison in Dublin
Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

THE GENERAL SECRETARY of the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) has defended the planned withdrawal of ‘goodwill’ duties over what he says is a lack of clarity about when staff will be vaccinated against Covid-19.

John Clinton said the union has contacted the government about the vaccine rollout on a number of occasions since last December, but has received no reply to their queries.

He told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that prison staff were “not asking for anything above the ordinary” and were simply seeking access to the State’s vaccine reserve list.

“We’ve been working in the thick of this since the commencement of [the pandemic],” he said.

“We’ve been asking since December and nobody will answer the question for us. We’re simply asking the question: where are we on that list? Are we on it? Will we have access to the reserve list? And can we have a small cohort of staff done?”

Clinton said that the union understood that other sectors were also seeking to be vaccinated on the basis of their work, but pointed out that unlike other professions, prison staff occasionally had to bring people into Covid-19 wards in hospitals.

“We are the only ones who have been put in that environment since the vaccination programme began, and that’s just not acceptable to us,” he added.

Last week, the union issued a statement to its members saying it was set to begin a “withdrawal of goodwill” over the lack of clarity about when prison officers would be vaccinated.

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Officers had been prioritised on the former list, but this is no longer the case on the age-based system announced by health officials a number of weeks ago.

A letter issued to union members called on officers to adhere strictly to their duties in Irish prisons.

Clinton explained that this could impact extra work done by prison officers, as well as the re-opening of prison schools and workshops which have been closed during the pandemic.

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