The Prison Officers' Association has called for criminal gang members to be isolated from the general prison population so as to remove their power within the prison system.

The association has accused the prison service of operating a policy of appeasement towards inmates involved in organised crime, enabling them to intimidate other prisoners and frustrating the work of prison officers.

POA President Stephen Delaney also said the ongoing feud between two criminal gangs in Dublin has also resulted in violence among rival gang members in prison.

The association's annual conference began in Athlone this morning.

According to the POA, criminal gangs not only pose an ongoing threat to prison officers but also make the lives of other weaker inmates very difficult through threats, assaults, drugs and weapons, attacking families and displaying a capacity to control matters outside the prison.

The association says, however, that a status quo is being allowed to exist in the prison system which appeases the bully and the gang, and they say this is unacceptable.

Violence linked to feud breaking out in prison - POA

Mr Delaney said violence linked to the current Dublin gang feud, which has so far resulted in six murders, has broken out in prison.

He cited an incident where three prison officers had to intervene in a crowded exercise yard in Mountjoy jail when a relation of one of the main protagonists in the feud was being attacked and slashed.

Mr Delaney has questioned why what he calls "vicious gang members" are allowed to congregate and carry out such attacks.

The association is now calling for a system to be introduced to isolate gang members from the general prison population so as to remove their power in prison.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Mr Delaney said it would be a difficult thing to do and would take infrastructural changes.

He said: "At the minute, for example, in Mountjoy Prison you would have 18 different factions within the confines of the prison and it would take a considerable amount of effort from the authorities, and indeed ourselves, to isolate and confine these gang leaders.

"But we do believe that we have the accommodation capability within the prison system. It just needs the effort of the senior management."

He said the use of mobile phones in prison was of major concern and it was very difficult to keep contraband outside the prison.

Mr Delaney said prison officers did not feel enough measures were being taken and that the current gang-related violence was being authorised by those in jail.