Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:00 pm on 12th October 2010.
Many views have been expressed, both inside and outside the Chamber, as to the merits or otherwise of devolving policing and justice powers. However, we have now moved on, and I broadly welcome the addendum to the Programme for Government for the Department of Justice.
Earlier this year, we agreed to take responsibility for those key portfolios. I think that it is safe to say that we all agree on one thing: we have taken on an extremely challenging responsibility. That is putting it mildly. We are reaping the harvest of years of direct rule, underfunding, neglect and prevarication on a range of policing and justice issues that are long overdue for reassessment and action. I do not envy the size of the task that confronts the Minister of Justice. However, I have to say that, to date, he has done a relatively good job overall. In some ways, it pains me to say that, but it has to be said.
Already there is evidence that devolution is making a difference and that it is delivering results on the ground. However, we have just started on what will be a long and potentially difficult road, and we could obviously be pushed off track by many things, including a rise in terrorist activity by so-called dissident republicans or a shortage of crucial funding at this time of cuts. Where those areas are concerned, we must be careful that we continue to pursue these devolution issues.
(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Dallat] in the Chair)
Whatever lies ahead, I look forward to playing my part as a member of the Committee for Justice. I assure the Minister that any criticisms that I may have will be constructive, because policing and justice issues are too important for cheap political point-scoring.
Although I support the addendum and the associated goals and public service agreements (PSA), I have one or two points that I want to raise. The addendum quite rightly emphasises the importance of building public confidence in the policing and justice system. In a divided society, that will mean different things to different people, but there are common concerns and worries about the way in which our society is going. I know from regular contact with people in my constituency that many feel vulnerable in their own homes. That applies especially to those who live in remote rural areas, those who are elderly and those who live on their own. They do not feel safe from burglaries or criminal activity, and that feeling will only increase as the winter nights come upon us. Sadly, those people do not have any real confidence that the police will be able to protect them in their own homes or that they will be successful in pursuing those criminals.
The level of antisocial behaviour in towns and villages across my constituency is also on the increase. Shared public spaces are often out of bounds to law-abiding people who are fearful for their safety. The addendum states:
“Although, in general, most crime-types have reduced significantly, not everyone feels safe.”
I find it hard to believe that there has been a general reduction in crime, and to say that not everyone feels safe in their own home is something of an understatement. If confidence is to be secured, we really need to see urgent and radical improvements. Policing must be effective, and justice must be done and be seen to be done. We can bring all the proposals that we wish through the House today and on other occasions, but if justice is not done, our words will be in vain. At the end of the day, actions speak louder than words, and it is actions that the people on the ground really want to see.
Perhaps I am missing something or have misunderstood the data, but it seems that some of the targets in the PSA section of the addendum are quite conservative and unchallenging. They will not give a great amount of confidence to the general public. For example, one of the targets is to increase public confidence in the effectiveness of criminal justice from a baseline of 35·6% to 37·8% by March next year. Given that that is just 2·2% of an improvement, I do not think that that will build much confidence in the community.
Another PSA target is to increase victim and witness satisfaction of the criminal justice system —
Again, that is not a very dramatic increase over the next six months. That is something that we will have to continue to —
The addendum to the Programme for Government raises a number of questions; I will comment on four specifically. I value what the Secretary of State said about tackling terrorism at last night’s launch of the book ‘Policing the Narrow Ground’. He made a commitment to stand by Northern Ireland and said that the Government of the United Kingdom will “bear down” on any group that is prepared to overthrow a democracy or attempt to overthrow a democracy.
To the credit of our Police Service, more arrests and charges have been made already. Let me make it very clear: no one wishes to see arrests and charges. However, the small minority who are organising themselves have an agenda of death and destruction. Death and destruction is all that they can offer to society. They attempt to inflict death and destruction on a democratic society that has chosen life and a different way forward in the hope that it will engender some fear and some support for their agenda; that support cannot be got. The priority to tackle terrorism must be as strong now as it has ever been.
The Member commended our local Police Service for the work that it has done. Will he join me in congratulating the authorities across the border, where Mr Ford’s equivalent, Dermot Ahern, was able to scoop up a number of these people yesterday? We should be very grateful for that.
My colleague the Member for Strangford makes a valuable point. Over the weekend, I commended publicly the finding of weapons, bomb component parts and ammunition in Wexford. At the last Policing Board meeting, too, I commended the Deputy Chief Constable’s excellent co-operative work with the Garda Síochána. Whether it is the terrorists of al-Qaeda, the terrorists of the Real IRA, the dissident IRA blowing up children in Lurgan or the murder of Bobby Moffett on the streets of Belfast, all forms of terrorism are wrong and need to be tackled with an international dimension. All police forces should co-operate.
My point is one that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom made in his first conference speech. He said that he will pursue those responsible by all the means that are at the disposal of the United Kingdom Government. In the past two years, our police force has seized drugs with a street value of £23 million. Last year, it seized drugs with a street value of £10 million. The reason for the reduction is that it had smashed some of the organised crime gangs that produce cannabis internationally.
The Minister mentions fear of crime in his document. I bring to the House’s attention again the concerns of many people in Comber and Donaghadee that their local police stations are to close. We have raised those concerns directly with the police personnel concerned. I am especially concerned about Comber, where the police presence could be whittled down to only five neighbourhood officers working out of a station. Having whittled the force down, the next move is to ask what good having a building is. A Comber population of 9,000 plus clearly want a local police station. It helps them to combat the fear of crime, and it is something that they are due. We need to think very carefully before we close those stations.
We welcome wholeheartedly the strategy’s inclusion of victims. We need to listen clearly to what victims are telling us.
Few people will realise the truth that was brought home to the Policing Board’s human rights and professional standards committee when it met in Londonderry on Friday. It found out that the police are called out every 21 minutes of every day in Northern Ireland to deal with incidents of domestic violence or abuse. The policing of those incidents costs £180 million. Although I appreciate the expertise that the police have shown through the work of their domestic violence liaison officers and their outreach programmes, it is important that we factor in the effect of that.
In conclusion, we have to ensure that there is speedy and direct access to justice, particularly in the area of youth offending.
Go raibh míle maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I welcome the opportunity to comment on the Department of Justice’s addendum to the Programme for Government. In my remarks, I will concentrate on the aspects of the programme that relate specifically to policing.
I welcome the commitment given in the addendum to provide adequate funding for policing. No one believes any longer that there can be a blank cheque for the resourcing of policing, as there was in the past. The Policing Board and the Police Service of Northern Ireland realise that. The board is seeking to ensure that the resources that the police have at their disposal are being used in the most effective and efficient way possible and that improvement is part of the culture of the Police Service.
The SDLP agreed with the ring-fencing of funding for policing and justice for one year after devolution, that is, until April 2011. In light of the current threat, we support the protection of the budget line for front line police officers. At the weekend, the police, for whatever reason, were unable to respond to a very serious incident in my constituency in which a woman was tied up, held at gunpoint in her home and robbed. That lady and her family contacted the police, but the police were not in a position to come to her home. In fact, in the end, she had to go to a prearranged location somewhere between her home and the police station to give a statement to a detective.
If those are the types of pressures that front line policing is facing at the moment, we can ill afford to reduce the resources available in that budget line. That does not mean that there are not opportunities to be more efficient, especially in back-office services in the PSNI; for example, in human resources, the finance department and the press and public relations department. Perhaps those areas can be examined in greater detail. However, we are strongly opposed to any reduction in numbers of front line Police Service members.
We agree with the Chief Constable’s policy of moving police officers from desk jobs to community and neighbourhood policing. I believe that around 400 officers have already been moved from desk jobs to front line policing. We very much welcome that; it is a trend that we would like to see continuing.
I will now speak about local partnerships on policing and community safety. The SDLP is anxious about any reconfiguration of the Patten arrangements. The arrangements have been one of the anchors of political development and the peace process here. Even when the Assembly was suspended and not all political parties were on board with policing, the Patten arrangements stood us in good stead. They are an extremely important part of the entire policing project and an aspect of policing in which the public have great faith. The arrangements have stability and accountability. It would be neither helpful nor healthy to tinker with them in any way.
If the role of the Policing Board or that of the DPPs was diminished —
I ask the Member to bring his remarks to a close, please.
— there would be a danger that those who wish to exploit —
There would be a danger that those who wish to exploit those particular changes — the people who advocate violence — would take solace from that.
I welcome the addendum to the Programme for Government. As a recent addition to the Committee for Justice, I have learnt quickly the valuable contribution that devolution of justice powers has brought to Northern Ireland. The addendum sets out a wide agenda for change that should allow the Assembly to make the justice system more responsive to people’s needs. It addresses areas that are of most concern to people in their daily lives, particularly antisocial behaviour. Public confidence in the system is also a theme throughout the addendum.
It does not, however, shy away from addressing larger issues, such as reform of the courts and the Prison Services and improving how organised crime is fought. I am pleased to see that a clear process has been laid out for achieving those goals, because, far too often, those kinds of proposals for reform are sprawling, undirected and open-ended. In this case, the addendum lays down a plan and a clear timetable and, indeed, has targets for the areas that it addresses. I am hopeful that, in this case, even though I am aware that there are concerns with some of the targets that have been set, those targets and programmes will be followed through on in coming months.
Although many issues in the justice system are, by their nature, best addressed nationally, the addendum does a good job of identifying those in which a local approach can ensure a better outcome for people in Northern Ireland. I, therefore, support the motion.
I support the motion. It is good to see the devolution of justice powers working. Now, the Assembly can take local action to address local issues. I commend the Minister for producing his proposed addendum to the Programme for Government.
I welcome his focus on building community confidence in the fairness and effectiveness of the criminal justice system. It is fair to say that public confidence in the system has been low. In particular, owing to their perception that the police do not always respond in time to their calls for help, many people in ethnic minority communities tend not to report crime. The low rate of prosecutions for racist crimes does not give them much faith in the system. I hope that the proposed measures will help to build confidence in all sections of the community.
I welcome the addendum’s goal to establish an interdepartmental approach to reduce offending and to bring an offender-management strategic framework to the Committee for Justice by January 2011. In fact, the crime rate here is much lower than that in many other parts of the world. For a place to enjoy a low crime rate, it needs an inclusive, fair and stable society. To achieve that society, we need a holistic approach involving other Departments.
We have 45,000 young people — about 19% of our 18- to 24-year-olds — who are not in education, employment or training. They are bored and have limited income and are, therefore, at higher risk of getting involved in criminal activity, such as antisocial behaviour or so-called recreational rioting. The Department of Justice should be working with other Departments, such as the Department of Education and the Department for Employment and Learning, to help young people to become employable and to make them feel that they have a positive contribution to make to society.
Westminster is proposing sweeping welfare reforms. Disadvantaged people already on the margins are going to be pushed even further. When people feel that they have nothing to lose, it is so easy for them to step over the line into crime. The Department for Social Development and the Department of Justice need to be considering support in deprived communities to prevent people falling prey to criminality.
Many people in prisons have low literacy and numeracy skills, mental health problems or personality disorders. I welcome the management framework, particularly for providing opportunities for rehabilitation and for addressing education and skills development and recommendations from the Bamford review.
I am encouraged by the Minister’s commitment to ensure a new strategy to improve community safety and to reduce antisocial behaviour and, thus, the fear of crime. In particular, I welcome the strategy’s support for the PSNI in respect of neighbourhood policing. With the large number of students coming back into south Belfast in September, we have seen an increased number of burglaries in recent weeks. It is important that students are given guidance and support in protecting their properties, and residents would be very pleased to see more police on the ground dealing with community safety issues. However, the action plan from the Holylands stakeholder forum has urged for more police powers to issue on-the-spot fixed penalty notices regarding alcohol abuse and antisocial behaviour, as well as powers to seize alcohol and to designate an alcohol disorder zone in the Holylands. Perhaps the Minister will consider those actions in future, under the community safety strand of the addendum.
I welcome the justice addendum to the Programme for Government. Having served for five years on bodies such as the Policing Board, the Committee on the Preparation for Government and the Assembly and Executive Review Committee, I know that we have been at this for a very long time. It is gratifying today to have a local Justice Minister bringing forward a programme that reflects local justice concerns. I have, however, a comment or two and some queries.
I welcome the plan to improve the treatment of victims. There is anecdotal evidence that some of our police officers need improved training. We have some evidence from Bangor where, at night-time particularly, it has become clear that some officers are attending incidents but their training in dealing with victims of rape and violence is, perhaps, not at the level that it should be. There is a need to refresh the training of officers who deal with such incidents and to improve their skills.
I note the intention to deal with antisocial behaviour, which I am quite sure is a concern in every constituency and for all Members here. I hope that the addendum will allow the police to reclaim the streets. There should be an emphasis on getting back the streets, and that requires proactive activity. I am encouraged in some areas where the police have taken steps to identify who is causing the trouble and to divert them. When I was on the Policing Board, we saw an example of the mobile video cameras that the police use. They are mounted in about two minutes and can sit around a corner, monitoring and capturing evidence to put people into court. I hope that that sort of proactive idea will be part of the Minister’s plans.
I welcome the co-ordination of the Departments. I hope that that means that we will not have situations such as those in Bangor and, I am sure, lots of other areas, in which the Planning Service agrees to the building of estates in areas that do not have a single amenity for young people that is within walking distance. The result is that those young people end up in the town centre with nothing to do and causing trouble. Hopefully, we will see ideas in which the Department for Regional Development, the Department of the Environment and the Planning Service get together with the Department of Justice to plan our towns and villages better.
The plan to merge district policing partnerships and community safety partnerships has been on the go since I got involved in justice. This is an opportunity to sort out the confusion and to revisit the theory of the district policing partnerships, for example. They were supposed to be stand-alone entities under their own managers. In many cases, they have ended up as a council subcommittee. That is a problem. Community safety partnerships were the child of the Northern Ireland Office and were used as a method to channel funds to paramilitaries. There was a time when it might have been a good idea to encourage paramilitaries into the justice system through restorative justice. However, I think that as things have matured somewhat, the time has come to re-examine that area and produce a single body that is fit for purpose and does what both those organisations were intended to do.
I am encouraged by the plans for neighbourhood policing. I have a worry, however, because, again, there is anecdotal evidence from a number of constituencies that, due to shortages, the PSNI command is moving neighbourhood officers into normal policing. It would be an awful pity to lose that ability, where local police officers contact local people. I worry that, in the great demand and reality of day-to-day policing, we are, perhaps, in danger of losing some of those.
The Assets Recovery Agency was very effective here with regard to organised crime. Local people saw it; it was very successful. The result was that it was subsumed into the Organised Crime Task Force. Will the Minister will tell us whether the Organised Crime Task Force has been as successful in dealing with assets and criminals as the Assets Recovery Agency, and whether that is, perhaps, the way ahead?
Finally, I have concerns over the resourcing of the criminal justice system. First, I would like confirmation from the Minister as to what is likely to happen with the police college. Secondly, I have concerns, and colleagues who have been on committees with me will be bored to death by them, that —
I declare an interest as a member of the Policing Board of Northern Ireland. When I look at the statistics for policing in Northern Ireland, I am minded that we have half the rate of crime per capita than other parts of the United Kingdom, and the statistics are on a downward trend. One might, therefore, wonder why people are fearful of crime and are demanding more resources. It is one of the issues that I hope the Minister will address. We need to find a way of explaining to people that justice depends not only on the policing system, but on the whole of the criminal justice system. Speedier justice is required.
The Policing Board had the privilege of talking to Keir Starmer. He has managed to bring in some remarkable changes in England and Wales. I hope that the Minister of Justice will take on board some of the initiatives that Mr Starmer has introduced, because that is the issue. The public are not satisfied. They hear about bad things going on in their neighbourhoods, or, even worse, bad things happen to them, but it seems to take a long time for people to be brought to justice or to be convicted.
Building an economy that will sustain us all was at the heart of the Programme for Government, and it is the overarching aim of the Executive and the Assembly. However it is impossible to do that unless we get peace and stability.
That is the cornerstone of everything else that we need to do, so we must put the appropriate investment into those areas.
There is an issue for all of us here, as politicians who occasionally find ourselves on ‘The Stephen Nolan Show’ and elsewhere. We need to understand that we have to win a battle for hearts and minds and to explain to all the people of Northern Ireland that policing is working for them and that it is fair, impartial and is actually doing the job. I stress to the Minister the need not just to do a good job but to explain to people what is being done so that they have confidence in the forces of law and order.
I will outline some of the areas about which members of the Policing Board have a little bit of concern. There seems to be some discussion about the effectiveness of the PPS. It is not for me to say whether it is effective or not, only that it seems something of an interface area. I know that Minister Goggins tried to bring together all elements of the criminal justice system, which seemed something of a challenge. I hope that the Minister will be able to make his best efforts to make sure that all the agencies involved in the criminal justice system work together for the betterment of all.
I am mindful of some of the issues within the Policing Board’s remit that do not appear to work as well as they might. It is important that we refocus our activities to make sure not just that the Policing Board takes responsibility for holding the PSNI to account, which it is bound to do under statute, but that it plays its role in convincing the people of Northern Ireland that the police are effective.
I have recently heard some discussion about the DPPs. To my mind, they are an invaluable tool in reaching out to the community, but they are effective to a greater or lesser extent depending on the geographical area involved. It is really important that the link between the DPPs and the Policing Board is maintained and strengthened. I should also add that the Policing Board has a valuable role to play alongside other agencies, particularly when considering prisons, Opportunity Youth and reoffending rates. In all of those issues, the views of people who have experience of policing and a political background could be taken into account.
I will finish by saying — this was mentioned by Jonathan Bell, who is no longer here; sorry, he is; he has just moved position — that domestic violence is a particularly important issue that accounts for almost half our murders. We need virtual courts and specialist courts that understand the issues associated with rape and other matters. The Minister of Justice might address those issues, and he might also deal with the way in which we look after the 15- to 17-year-olds in our society who currently have nowhere to go. Moving them on is just not sufficient.
I thank colleagues who contributed to the debate, particularly those who chose to make positive comments. Agreeing the addendum is a very important milestone in the concept of the devolution of justice powers. I could probably do with about an hour to respond to all the points that were raised, especially by some who spoke towards the end, who managed to get in a number of substantive points. I will do my best in the few minutes that I have.
The launch of a consultation document on sentencing guidelines is just one example that shows the practical, realistic progress that is being made in implementing the addendum. It is not a matter of a debate today; it is a matter of recognition of the work that is going on. The addendum is informed by a wide range of views and comments in the Assembly and beyond, and I am grateful for all of those. The Department will be fully engaged in the development of the next Executive Programme for Government, and justice priorities will be fully integrated into that.
In my introductory remarks, I said that progress had been made already on a number of the key goals outlined in the addendum. However, as highlighted by Lord Morrow, it is still an ambitious programme of activity, and a lot is expected to be achieved in the lifetime of this Assembly. I know that, with the support of the Executive, the Justice Committee and Members of the Assembly generally, those targets are achievable, although they are demanding.
To turn briefly to Members’ comments, I hope that I can reflect how the debate went. It was fortunate that the first two Members to speak, Lord Morrow and Raymond McCartney, were the Chairperson and the Deputy Chairperson of the Committee for Justice. Although neither is in the Chamber at the moment, I want to place on record the Committee’s assistance, formal and informal, in working on the addendum and on the Bill that I propose to introduce next week. That was an example of how Committees should operate. I welcome its support and its challenges equally. I particularly welcome the comments made about the Justice Bill. The Committee has already spent a great deal of time on it, and that time will no doubt increase over the next few weeks. I look forward to working on the Bill with Lord Morrow and his colleagues.
It was acknowledged that we have a challenging agenda for the remainder of the Programme for Government period. At the same time, some Members, starting with Lord Morrow, suggested that there were not challenging targets. I accept that there are issues, because the targets are to some extent derived from an existing position. We have to recognise that on issues such as community confidence we start from a low base, and, to use the old analogy, Rome was not built in a day. However, I am committed to setting stretching objectives for the system, and we will engage with the Committee to that end as we contribute to the next Programme for Government.
I was going to twit Raymond McCartney for not being in the Chamber for the first part of my contribution, but it is not everybody who can get the Chief Whip to apologise on their behalf, so I will leave that out. He, too, made extremely positive comments about the work of the Department and the Committee to ensure that change happens for the benefit of all the people of Northern Ireland. He highlighted the prisons review as one of our most important targets, and I welcome his comments about the professionalism and objectivity of Anne Owers and her team. In all areas, however, the challenge is to deliver, not just to strategise, and we will continue to work on those reforms as the review team proceeds with its work.
Tom Elliott rightly highlighted the importance of how we approach and support victims. That point was made by other Members, including, notably, Jonathan Bell. I hope shortly to launch a consultation on a code of practice to victims, which addresses the requirement in the Hillsborough agreement and highlights the personal commitment that I have from my own professional background.
Tackling delay, which was highlighted by a number of Members, is also one of my key priorities. A major new programme of work was put in place over the past few months. At one of my first meetings after taking office I met the Criminal Justice Board about speeding up justice. That issue will certainly not be forgotten by the Department. It is vital that justice not only be done but be seen to be done on a reasonable timescale. The recent Criminal Justice Inspection report highlighted useful recommendations on the delay issue. Again, we need to underpin those recommendations with specific targets. However, the targets that I inherited on devolution are simply not fit for purpose, and we are developing fresh objectives that will reflect the totality of victims’ experiences.
When talking about victims, Mr Elliott highlighted the victims of domestic violence, as did other Members. I will continue to work with Michael McGimpsey to address and reduce domestic violence. Mr Elliott and others can be assured that the Department of Justice will not let that matter slip down the agenda, even though some priority lies with the Department of Health.
With regard to dealing with dissidents, I assure Alban Maginness that it is critical not just to me but to the Chief Constable and the Policing Board to ensure that the good work of personal policing is not undermined by paramilitary and terrorist activity. Policing with the community remains the fundamental principle on which all policing in this society has to be based. I am determined to do all that I can to ensure that the police have the necessary resources to deal with the threat posed by terrorists. However, it is not simply a policing problem: we all share the responsibility on that.
Alban also highlighted North/South co-operation. The addendum does not try to list all my engagements with Dermot Ahern and the agencies across the border, although my latest meeting with him was just last week. That followed a tripartite meeting the previous week with him and Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish Justice Minister. Members can rest assured that I recognise the need for cross-jurisdictional co-operation, not merely cross-border co-operation.
Stephen Farry, as I would have expected, highlighted the importance of working towards a shared future and the role of the Justice Department and its agencies in that. Many of the actions highlighted in the addendum reflect that commitment, particularly on community safety strategy, young people at risk and tackling hate crime. As Stephen Farry recognised, they are not issues for the Department of Justice to tackle on its own. My Department is, however, committed to playing its part in working collaboratively with all other Departments.
Paul Givan highlighted the challenges of working towards increased public confidence in the criminal justice system, and that point was made by other Members as well. A key part of his contribution was his reference to prisons, and he stressed the need to reduce reoffending. The review team, led by Dame Anne Owers, will inform and provide the impetus for further developments in that regard. That is just part of a wider focus on reducing reoffending. It tackles some of the root causes of offending through early intervention and is one of the key goals in the addendum. However, I must say to Mr Givan that people are sent to prison as punishment not for punishment. The duty of prisons is to rehabilitate people when they are there as their punishment. We make society safer by ensuring that they do not reoffend when they come out.
I thank the Minister for giving way and for raising that valid point. Does he agree that prisons have insufficient reform measures, such as training and preparing prisoners for returning to society? Does he agree that a drugs culture should not be tolerated in prison? Those who enter prison without a drugs habit leave with one; that is unacceptable.
I agree with the Member about the need to provide the maximum possible opportunities for rehabilitation. We ensure that all prison staff engage in that process. That is why I was delighted last week to provide 17 certificates for work on restorative justice to Prison Service staff, ranging from headquarters to basic grade prison officers, and to hear about the work put into practical application as a part of rehabilitation.
Carál Ní Chuilín commented on the integration of community safety partnerships and district policing partnerships, which I welcome. Integration will have real benefits. Other Members expressed concerns; however, we are doing this in a way that will ensure that the role of DPPs as outlined in the Patten proposals and highlighted by Dominic Bradley, in particular, will continue to be a part of the review.
The addendum commits us to reviewing the power of the Prisoner Ombudsman in the light of experience elsewhere. I wrote to the First Minister and the deputy First Minister seeking their views on whether a wider examination of ombudsman services might affect that work so that I can make an informed decision on the way forward for the Prisoner Ombudsman.
Jimmy Spratt highlighted resource issues and made reference to bringing more officers to the front line, a point made by other Members. The Department must do all it can to support the Chief Constable’s operational proposals for that, but I must underline my commitment to the tripartite governance arrangements. It is not for me to interfere with the operational decisions of the Chief Constable.
I welcome the comments of Danny Kennedy in support of work on organised crime, and I reassure him and Alan McFarland that that remains a priority for the Department. The addendum to the PSA includes targets on using the proceeds of crime and raising public awareness of the harm caused by organised crime. That would bring to attention human trafficking, an issue that has been well aired in the Chamber in recent weeks. I welcome also his positive comments on the review of prison governance.
I have to make it clear, particularly to Conall McDevitt, that Dame Anne Owers and her team are engaged in a fundamental review. They can make wide-ranging recommendations about the future shape and operation of the Prison Service. When making a simple comparison with the Patten reforms of policing, we must bear it in mind that there is no open-ended budget to carry through the reforms needed in the Prison Service. Nonetheless, the team has been asked to produce fundamental proposals, not simply to tinker around. We have to recognise the financial environment, but we must also recognise the need for reform.
In answer to the question that I was asked — I cannot now remember by whom — on the two recent prisoner releases made in error, I can confirm that a comprehensive inquiry is under way. As I told the House, I will report to the Assembly when that inquiry is completed.
Without prejudging the outcome of the fundamental review of the Prison Service that is taking place, can the Minister guarantee that he would reject any recommendation from that review that might propose 50:50 recruitment in the Prison Service?
Having commissioned a review, I would be foolish to say whether I would agree with everything that it says or would disagree or take any position in between. All the recommendations will be examined in detail.
Conall McDevitt mentioned Brian Faulkner’s all-Ireland intelligence service. Without going any further on that point, I can assure him that I see the highest-ever levels of co-operation between the PSNI and An Garda Síochána in every meeting that I have. I believe that that is meeting the needs of the people of Ireland, North and South.
I am sorry; I really am out of time.
Conall McDevitt and John O’Dowd talked about the review of youth justice that will soon be under way. That will be an opportunity to take account of the concerns expressed about custody for young people. I reiterate a point I made earlier: the Department of Justice will work with other Departments as we deal with a variety of issues concerning disaffected young people.
Tom Buchanan also talked about public confidence, but I believe that that issue has many factors. It is about the accessibility and visibility of the police; the responsiveness of policing; and the outcomes of the criminal justice process and the speed of that process. There are many things that cannot be delivered in a few simple steps, but that work, which needs to be addressed in the long term, underpins much of what we seek to do.
Tom Buchanan and Basil McCrea highlighted the perception that crime is not decreasing. Crime is decreasing in this society. The reality is that our region has had historically low records of crime in comparison with other regions in these islands, and the trend is downwards. However, there is a real issue of perception, and each of us has a role to play in addressing that, particularly Members who are involved in DPPs or CSPs.
Jonathan Bell referred to the threat of terrorism that we are under. I will update him on the statistics as at the end of last week: 17 people were charged with serious terrorist offences in the whole of last year, yet 62 people have been charged so far this year. That is significantly higher than the increase of approximately 50% in the number of acts of terrorism. It is an indication of the good work being done by the PSNI and by An Garda Síochána.
Mr Bell mentioned police stations and made a point about confidence. Surely, confidence is something for the Chief Constable to address in the way in which he deploys his officers on the ground. That point was made by others. I assure Members of our commitment to working in partnership to ensure that we make the best possible arrangements to provide for the future policing and justice system of this community. Much of the debate has been about policing.
I have a final word on resourcing. We are in the middle of a very difficult spending round, and there are real problems in finding the resources necessary for the justice system. However, I have been making strong representations to the Government — frequently with the Secretary of State and with the Deputy Prime Minister — on the issue of adequate resources for front line policing, which relates to both anti-terrorism and community policing. Six months ago to the day, this Chamber elected me Minister of Justice. I am delighted to commend this addendum to the programme to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That the addendum to the Programme for Government for the Department of Justice, as agreed by the Executive, be approved.