Check Against Delivery
Professor Willie Donnelly
Human Resources Director Culliton
And most importantly – Graduates.
Congratulations! That is what I really want to say tonight to those of you from the class of 2017 who are here tonight….
Congratulations. You have successfully completed the Higher Certificate in Custodial Care and I am delighted be with you as you celebrate this achievement along with your families. It is an important moment - you have worked hard to make it to this point and I want to say a hearty Well Done to each and every one of you.
Personally speaking, I am especially delighted to be with you here this evening, because my first official engagement as Minister for Justice and Equality, back in 2017, was actually to meet with some of you.
I was taking my first steps as Minister for Justice and Equality, just as you were taking your first ones as Recruit Prison Officers in the College in Portlaoise.
I have no doubt that we have all learned a great deal since that day!
What you have been doing since then has been challenging. I acknowledge that. Completing your education while dealing with demanding prison work will have been a tricky balancing act. But you have succeeding in maintaining that balance and now you are on the cusp of life as a prison officer.
Being one, is not easy.
Prison officers face many challenges throughout their careers. They deal with extremely vulnerable people on a daily basis and they are often faced with stressful situations.
These experiences cannot always be easily left behind at prison gates, which is why families and friends are so important. They are the ones who provide the ongoing support, acceptance and understanding officers need as they fulfil their complex roles. Knowing the number of prison officers and families that I do, because of my home town being Portlaoise, I really see the value of supportive families.
I want to acknowledge that, and also to sincerely thank you family members here today for it.
To the graduating officers meanwhile, I want to say that the work you do is hugely valuable. Much of it may be unseen, but it plays a key role in making the lives of every person in this country safer.
But remember, it is not by locking people up each day that you achieve that goal of a safer Ireland. It is through your daily interaction with prisoners and through the hope and inspiration that you can give to them.
It is inspiration which drives us to overcome challenges, conquer our fears and reach new heights. By working with offenders, you have the potential to uplift and motivate, and open their eyes to new possibilities and opportunities, and provide hope for a different life… a better life.
The Nobel Prize winning poet TS Elliott once wrote “Every moment is a fresh beginning”, and this is especially true for those committed to your care. You have the opportunity to help offenders see their time in custody as a fresh beginning and an opportunity to change their lives for the better.
The people best placed to provide corrective experiences and demonstrate a “good way of behaving”– are you - Prison Officers. People in custody look to you, as the most accessible people they have in their lives at that time, not only as figures of authority but more importantly as people to learn from.
I know that throughout your training, and during your time spent in the prisons in which you have been based, the importance of the Irish Prison Service values has been regularly repeated and emphasised. You will have heard that the Irish Prison Service is a values based organisation.
But, what does that mean?
Well mission statements and organisational values CAN be somewhat meaningless. Employees can feel they are just collections of words which are irrelevant. But in the case of the Irish Prison Service, this could not be further from the truth.
The Irish Prison Service values – Teamwork, Integrity, Potential, Safety and Support are values that we genuinely want and need you to live every day, in your work life and beyond. But while each is important, the one I want to highlight particularly today, is Integrity.
By acting with integrity you will gain the trust of your colleagues; the trust of your managers and supervisors; and most importantly of all, the trust of the prisoners in your care.
Integrity demands truthfulness and honesty. Acting with integrity means following your moral convictions and doing the right thing, as the Prison Service value says, even if no one is watching. By acting in this way others will see you as a role model, as dependable, as professional.
Integrity is the foundation of leadership. Practise it and it will serve you well in your long and hopefully successful careers as Irish Prison Officers.
While you are committing yourself to your new career, I want you to know that the Government too will play its part.
The Government, and I personally as Minister, are working to ensure that the Irish Prison Service has the necessary support to undertake its role effectively.
We will continue to invest.
The recruitment of new staff continues to be a priority.
Over 430 new Recruit Prison Officers have joined the Service in recent years; and the 2020 competition, the next phase in the Prison Service plan to recruit a further 380 new staff over the coming years, will be announced shortly.
We are also committed to ensuring that you are appropriately supported in your role. I am pleased that the supports available to prison officers have been enhanced, with initiatives such as self-referral counselling; improvements to training and development; and enhanced staff engagement and recognition.
I know and welcome that the Irish Prison Service is committed to building further on these initiatives over coming years.
Investment in our prisons is also important. The Government has made, and continues to make, a considerable investment in capital projects in recent years- the new prison in Cork and the refurbished and extended Irish Prison Service College in Portlaoise are examples of this investment, as is the major capital project underway in Limerick.
This investment is to ensure safe and security custody for prisoners and the best available working conditions for you and your colleagues. And I hope you will see all this investment and effort as the indication of good faith and confidence it is intended to be.
Finally this evening, to those who have worked with you over the past two years and helped develop your skills and expertise. I am thinking of those involved in design, delivery and assessment of the programme in WIT including
- Professor Willie Donnelly, President of WIT
- Dr. Suzanne Denieffe
- Michael Bergin and
- Programme Coordinator Cathal Ryan.
as well as the Irish Prison Service College training team including
- Governor David Clarke
- Assistant Governor Ray O’Keeffe
- Chief Officer Sean Coen and
- Sarah McNeill.
On your behalf I would like to thank them for their efforts.
Working together, they, and you, have arrived at this stage.
Because of their help and input, you are now ready to join an organisation with an exemplary tradition of service.
I urge you to approach your work there with professionalism, integrity and pride and to add your mark to that tradition and story.
And I want you to know you will have the full support of me, my department and the Government as you do so.