I propose to take Questions Nos. 10, 15 and 67 together.
I am unaware of any case in which citizens are being detained in prison in Northern Ireland without either having been charged or convicted. There are cases where persons were convicted and were subsequently released on licence and have been re-incarcerated on the basis that they are in breach of their licence condition.
The devolution arrangements agreed in 2010 provide that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland remains responsible for national security matters. My officials in the British-Irish intergovernmental secretariat in Belfast continue to raise appropriate prisoner cases with their British counterparts. I have on a number of occasions raised the Government’s concerns about a limited number of related licence revocation cases directly with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
Policing and justice powers were fully devolved to the Northern Ireland Executive in 2010 following an all-party agreement reached at Hillsborough Castle. This was a positive development for partnership government in Northern Ireland and a boost to the peace process. Completing the devolution of policing and justice powers to the executive had been a very high priority since 1998, as successive Governments, supported by all sides of this House, recognised that building and strengthening confidence across the community in policing and justice was essential to the success, legitimacy and sustainability of the devolved institutions and to embedding peace.
In April 2010, David Ford MLA was appointed Minister of Justice and assumed responsibility for policing and criminal justice policy. Prisons policy forms a central part of the Department of Justice's remit and an executive agency, namely the Northern Ireland Prison Service, implements prison policy in Northern Ireland. A Prisoner Ombudsman is also appointed by the Minister of Justice for Northern Ireland and operates completely independently of the Northern Ireland Prison Service. The Prisoner Ombudsman and his team investigate complaints from prisoners and visitors to prisoners in Northern Ireland as well as deaths in custody.
An early priority for the Department of Justice was the commissioning of a major report into prison reform. In October 2011, Dame Anne Owers made far-reaching recommendations related to prison reform in Northern Ireland. I understand that steady progress has been made to date in implementing the recommended reforms contained within that report. I wholeheartedly agree with Minister Ford's analysis that delivery of a reformed justice system has a major part to play in building and protecting a more positive future for Northern Ireland.
I also agree with recent comments he made praising new recruits to the Northern Ireland Prison Service for their commitment to the new prison service. In looking forward to a better future for the several hundreds of recent recruits, I am sure the House will join me once again in condemning the brutal murder of their colleague, prison officer David Black, last November by dissident terrorists.
With the devolution of policing and justice, the Government’s primary responsibility is to ensure the systems 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. The Government’s position continues to be that the full implementation of all of the recommendations of the Owers report remains the most effective way to ensure conditions within all prisons in Northern Ireland are of an acceptable standard. I have discussed this with Minister Ford in recent times and we are of one mind on this matter.