'Danger money' for Northern Ireland prison staff

By Vincent Kearney
BBC NI home affairs correspondent

Prison officer locking gate
Image caption,
Prison officers in Northern Ireland face an ongoing threat from dissident republican paramilitaries

More than 1,000 prison service staff in Northern Ireland are to receive special annual danger money payments because of the threat from dissident republicans.

An independent pay review body has recommended that they should each be paid more than £1,300 a year on top of their normal salary.

The body said the extra money should be paid to prison staff for as long as the security threat remains.

In November 2012, a prison officer was murdered by dissident republicans.

Media caption,
DUP MLA Paul Givan says the payments are fully merited

David Black was shot dead in County Armagh as he drove along the M1 on his way to work at Maghaberry prison.

He was the 31st member of the prison service to be killed in Northern Ireland, but it was the first such murder in almost 20 years.

Special allowance

Even before Mr Black was murdered, prison staff had been lobbying for extra payments to reflect the threat they face.

Justice Minister David Ford referred the issue to the Prison Service Pay Review Body, and it has now said what it calls a supplementary risk allowance of £1,320 per year should be paid.

The decision applies to staff who have joined the Northern Ireland Prison Service since 2002 - including more than 350 employed during the past 18 months.

The majority of the new employees earn between £18,000 and £21,000 per year.

It does not apply to what are referred to as main grade prison officers, who were recruited before 2002.

They earn £38,000 or more, as a special allowance is already built into their salary.

Image source, PACEMAKER
Image caption,
Prison officer David Black was murdered on his way to work in 2012

'Financial cost'

Justice committee chairman Paul Givan has said the extra payments are justified.

"These officers are all being advised that they need to alternate their routes when they are coming to work and going home from work, and there are areas they are not allowed to socialise in.

"So there is a clear impact on their lifestyle and the environment that they are operating in outside of work, and that has a financial cost to it as well," Mr Givan said.

The extra payments will cost more than £1.5m a year.

In a letter to the justice committee, Mr Ford said the recommendation represents a significant cost to his department and that no additional resources will be made available.

It is understood the required extra money will come from within the existing Prison Service budget.

'Not enough'

Mr Givan said finding the money required should be a priority for the Department of Justice.

"This is not a question of whether this money should be paid," the DUP MLA said.

"The payments are fully merited and the justice minister must ensure the additional money needed is found, and quickly."

The new payments will be reviewed every two years, and will be withdrawn if and when the security situation improves.

The association that represents prison officers has welcomed the recommendation that this special payment should be made, but says the amount on offer is not enough.