Policing, prisons and overall criminal justice policy have been the responsibility of the Minister of Justice in Northern Ireland, David Ford MLA, since the devolution of policing and justice in 2010. The Irish Government has a close and excellent working relationship with the Minister and his Department and co-operation between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI to combat criminal and terrorist activity is excellent. As Minister responsible for foreign affairs I very much value my engagement with the Minister, Mr. Ford, and our exchanges cover a wide range of issues. Since 2010, the Irish Government’s primary responsibility is to ensure the justice systems which are in place are robust and consistent with the principles and values of the Good Friday Agreement and the other agreements for which we are co-guarantors.
Prison policy forms a central part of the Northern Ireland Department of Justice’s remit and an executive agency, the Northern Ireland Prison Service, implements prison policy in that jurisdiction. A prisoner ombudsman is also appointed by the Minister and the ombudsman operates entirely independently of the Northern Ireland Prison Service.
The Northern Ireland Prisoner Ombudsman and his team investigate complaints from prisoners and visitors to prisoners in Northern Ireland, as well as deaths in custody.
I wholeheartedly agree with the analysis of the Minister of Justice, Mr. Ford, that delivery of a reformed justice system has a major part to play in building a more positive future for Northern Ireland. I commend the work under way to give effect to the far-reaching recommendations related to prison reform in Northern Ireland contained in Dame Anne Owers' 2011 report. The Government’s position continues to be that full implementation of all of the recommendations made in the Owers report remains the most effective way to ensure conditions within all prisons in Northern Ireland are of an acceptable standard. The Minister, Mr. Ford, and I have discussed it and are of one mind on the matter.
A central aspect of my engagement with the Minister, Mr. Ford, is the Government’s absolute support for the men and women of the PSNI and the Northern Ireland Prison Service in their work to support the rule of law and a new beginning for justice in Northern Ireland. The men and women in these excellent public services face persistent and severe threats to their lives and well-being from those who are enemies of the peace process. People who threaten and have acted to murder, harm and threaten police and prison officers act in defiance of the criminal law. They also defy the sovereign will of the people who freely endorsed the principles and values of the Good Friday Agreement in an all-island referendum just over 16 years ago on May 22 1998. I call on all Irish republicans who try to justify threats against public servants to listen to the people. It is long past time to end the violence. The door is open to join the rest of us who seek change through dialogue, persuasion and the ballot box. The people have chosen peace and they should heed their will.
As previously indicated in the House, the arrangements agreed for the devolution of policing and justice in 2010 include a role for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in national security matters. I am aware that such prisoner cases have had resonance historically in communities here and abroad. My officials in the British-Irish Intergovernmental Council secretariat in Belfast continue to monitor prisoner cases which arise from the exercise of such competences. As the House will know, I have on a number of occasions raised the Government’s perspective on humanitarian issues in certain cases directly with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Such issues are part of my regular and comprehensive discussions with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, as we work together to guarantee that peace, policing and power sharing are supported by all of us all of the time.