Apologies have been received from Lady Sylvia Hermon, MP, Mr. Mark Durkan, MP, Dr. Alasdair McDonnell, MP, and Mr. Pat Doherty, MP. Members will understand these people were here on Tuesday for our first ever joint meeting with the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of the House of Commons. They regret they could not return a second time this week and send their apologies.
I remind members and those in the Gallery to ensure their mobile phones and Blackberries are totally switched off for the duration of this meeting because they cause interference with the recording equipment in the committee rooms, even when on silent.
The minutes of the meeting of 9 November 2010 have been circulated. Are any matters arising? No. Are the minutes agreed? Agreed.
Is onóir mhór dom céad míle fáilte a chur roimh an Aire Dlí agus Cirt ó thaobh Thuaidh ár dTíre, an tUasal David Ford, MLA. Is ócáid stairiúil dúinn uilig go bhfuil sé anseo linn. It is a great honour for me and a unique pleasure to welcome Mr. David Ford, MLA, Minister for Justice for Northern Ireland. I have known the Minister, Mr. Ford, since 1993 when we both participated in the initial strand 2 talks in Stormont. When leadership, vision and mutual respect were earnestly needed in the dark and difficult days in Northern Ireland, the Minister, Mr. Ford, displayed those qualities with a calm demeanour which was of major assistance at a crucial time in the peace process. We are deeply honoured and grateful to him and his colleagues in the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland for what they have contributed over the years and the balance they brought to Northern Ireland affairs in dark and difficult days.
For the Minister's information, this committee was established in October 2007 as a cross-party committee of both Houses of Parliament, Oireachtas Éireann, to consider issues arising from Ireland's role as a signatory to the Good Friday Agreement and ongoing developments on the implementation of the Agreement. The committee has two complementary interests. First, it considers institutional issues arising out of the implementation of the Good Friday and St. Andrews Agreements. Second, following from the institutional arrangements we are keen to support areas of practical North-South cross-Border co-operation. On the institutional side, we welcome a key milestone in that regard this year with the devolution of policing and justice powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive.
We salute the Minister and congratulate him on his appointment to this prestigious and important position on this island, particularly in his own functional area. The Minister stated in his speech in Castle Buildings on 7 June that the devolution of justice and policing provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape the justice system in Northern Ireland and, through partnership, build a safer Northern Ireland with lower levels of crime, safe shared communities and justice for all. Members of this committee are keen to hear from the Minister about the role North-South co-operation in policing and justice can play in seizing that opportunity.
I remind everybody present that members are protected by the long-standing parliamentary practice, or long-standing rule of the Chair, to the effect that members should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. If anybody is directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in relation to a particular matter and you continue to do so you are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of your evidence. You are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and you are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, you should not criticise or make charges against any person or persons, or entity, by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Mr. Ford, it is a great pleasure to give you the opportunity now to address this committee. You are warmly welcome among us.