Wreaths laid in memory of Northern Ireland’s prison officers

Wreaths have been laid in memory of prison officers in Northern Ireland who lost their lives in the course of duty.

Some 32 members of the Northern Ireland Prison Service were remembered during the service at the memorial garden at Hydebank Wood in south Belfast.

Serving officer Ernie Smyth was among those who laid wreaths at the memorial stone.

He is the longest serving uniformed member of the Prison Service with almost 40 years’ service.

Both male and female prison officers are among the 32 who died.

They include Adrian Ismay, 52, who died following a dissident republican booby trap bomb under his vehicle in east Belfast in 2016, and William McConnell, 35, governor of HMP Maze who was shot dead by the Provisional IRA in 1984.

The first prison officer to be killed was Officer R Walker, 33, who was shot dead in 1942.

Agnes Wallace, 40, was the first female officer to be killed. She died in 1979 following an attack by INLA terrorists.

The Maze Prison
The Maze Prison

Ronnie Armour, director general of the Northern Ireland Service, met a number of families of the officers during the annual event.

“It is important that we continue to remember the service and sacrifice of prison staff who lost their lives serving the community,” he said.

“The annual service of remembrance serves as a reminder of the professionalism, commitment and dedication of governors, officers and support staff of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, past and present, in upholding and maintaining our justice system.”

Wreaths were also laid by Peter May, Permanent Secretary for the Department of Justice, representatives of the bereaved widows, the Central Benevolent Fund, the Prison Officers’ Association, the Prison Governors’ Association, NI Public Service Alliance, the Prison Service Trust, the NIPS Sports Association, the Retired Officers’ Fellowship, the local branch of the Royal British Legion and the Irish Prison Service.

The Memorial Garden at Hydebank Wood was officially opened by the Princess Royal, earlier this year.

Mr Armour described the new garden as “a space where we, as a Prison Service family, can come to remember relatives, friends and colleagues so cruelly taken from us and to reflect on the contribution they made as well as the service they gave”.

“It is a place of tranquillity and a permanent acknowledgement of the heavy price paid by the families of our murdered colleagues,” he added.