Last Friday, I met Northern Ireland's Minister of Justice, Mr. David Ford. We discussed in detail the situation at Maghaberry Prison, including the regime for separated prisoners. My last meeting with the Secretary of State, Ms Theresa Villiers, MP, was on 17 November as we concluded the negotiation of the fresh start agreement. We will meet before the end of this month when I will again raise non-devolved matters relating to Maghaberry with her directly.
It is my understanding that there are no proposals to change the current regime for separated prisoners at the prison. Implementation of the independent assessment team recommendations remains the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Prison Service.
In our discussion last week, the Minister, Mr. David Ford, MLA, noted that while there had been some progress, full implementation had been affected by trust issues arising, in part from the sense of a threat to staff. This echoed a statement from the Northern Ireland Prison Service qualifying its commitment to the recommendations by making them conditional on an “an environment where staff are free from threat and intimidation”.
The naming of individuals by prisoners in public statements may not have been intended by them to be seen as threatening. However, having read their statements, I can understand if those named were to consider them intimidatory. It is my strong view that the full implementation of the recommendations of the independent assessment team is dependent on the establishment of a reasonable level of trust between the relevant prisoners and prison staff. The Deputy will agree that there must be a regime of trust.
Among the challenges I discussed with the Minister, Mr. Ford, were the obstacles to the operation of the prison forum which, since July 2015, has been chaired by a representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross. A functioning forum would make an important contribution to reducing tensions in Maghaberry. My officials maintain regular contact with the chair of the prison forum and also with the members of the independent assessment team.