PPS: Staff Numbers and Resources

Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:00 pm on 2 November 2021.

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Photo of Mike Nesbitt Mike Nesbitt UUP 2:00, 2 November 2021

1. Mr Nesbitt asked the Minister of Justice what discussions she has had with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) regarding staff numbers and resources within the Public Prosecution Service (PPS). (AQO 2650/17-22)

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

I meet the Director of Public Prosecutions regularly, and I most recently met him at the end of September 2021. Although I fully recognise the operational independence of the Public Prosecution Service, our discussions include consideration of the resources that are available to the PPS in the context of our shared efforts to recover the justice system from the impact of COVID-19. As a non-ministerial department, however, PPS funding does not fall to my Department. The Public Prosecution Service receives its funding from the Department of Finance. The Director of Public Prosecutions is also a member of the Criminal Justice Board (CJB), which is the main strategic oversight group for the criminal justice system. The board meets regularly, and, where appropriate, its meetings include discussion on the availability of resources.

Photo of Mike Nesbitt Mike Nesbitt UUP

I thank the Minister for that answer. Has she given any consideration to the implications for the Public Prosecution Service should the Stormont House legacy proposals go ahead, particularly the proposal for a Historical Investigations Unit (HIU)?

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

I thank the Member for his question. It is an issue that causes all of us considerable concern. I am on record as saying that the justice system, as currently constituted, is not the right mechanism through which to deal with all the issues in the Stormont House Agreement. When it comes to the issue of dealing with legacy, I believe that we need to have a properly managed approach. The Stormont House Agreement would allow us to do that over a fixed time period and in a progressive way, and that would lead to good outcomes. The Public Prosecution Service has, of course, engaged with us in those legacy discussions, as it has with the NIO, as one would expect when it comes to resourcing. It will be challenging for all parts of the justice system, which is why it is important that any comprehensive arrangement for dealing with legacy issues also be properly funded.

Photo of Justin McNulty Justin McNulty Social Democratic and Labour Party

Minister, I have just attended a gut-wrenching event at the front of the Building, at which the families of the disappeared walked in silence to the steps of Stormont and laid a wreath in memory of those who have disappeared. I was speaking to Oliver McVeigh, whose brother has been lost for so many years. I was speaking to Anne Morgan, whose brother Seamus Ruddy was found four years ago and then buried. She still pinches herself every day that he was found.

The families are so strong, and their dignity is extraordinary. Although there are pressures on the Justice Department's resources, can you tell me whether the resources are there to help those families locate their loved ones? Moreover, are the resources there to ensure that those who were responsible for the disappeared will be brought to justice?

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

On the issue that the Member has raised, all of us will want to extend not just our sympathy but our solidarity to those who find themselves in what is a completely unacceptable situation. Not only have they lost a relative but they have found themselves with no place to grieve, no place to mark that passing and no way to give their loved one a dignified burial, and that compounds their grief and hurt. That is the first thing that I want to say.

On the recovery of remains, the Member will be aware that responsibility for the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains (ICLVR) lies with the Northern Ireland Office rather than with my Department. In holding to account those who took lives and disposed of the bodies in such a barbaric fashion, however, as I said in my answer to the original question, I believe that, at this time, the justice system is the only show in town when it comes to dealing with those who have conducted themselves in such a way. The proposals that the Government have brought forward would deny that option, however, even were further evidence to be made available. That would be the wrong thing to do for the very reason that you have spoken about today, which is the grief of the families and the fact that that grief has already been compounded by their long wait for justice, and that is potentially now to be denied. It is important, and incumbent on all of us, to find a solution that offers a viable and funded alternative to what the Government are currently proposing. I do not think that any of us in the House wants to be a party to the pain that the victims have suffered over many years.