Both I and my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan, both personally and through our officials, engage regularly with the PSNI and other stakeholders to discuss a wide range of issues. Minister Flanagan and I have both expressed our ongoing support for the PSNI and I pay tribute to the excellent cooperation in place with An Garda Síochána.
The PSNI are aware that the attitudes and perceptions within the Nationalist community can act as a barrier to community confidence in policing and that heightened levels of 'Stop and Search' can have a negative impact in certain locations. These points have been discussed between my officials and the relevant authorities in Northern Ireland, including with the PSNI.
At a recent conference in Belfast, attended by my officials, young people from all backgrounds had the opportunity to engage directly with the PSNI Chief Constable and the Assistant Chief Constable to put across their views on the use of Stop and Search. In follow up discussions between my officials and the Chief Constable following this event, it was evident that he valued the engagement and understood the concerns.
I very much welcome the declared intention of the new Chief Constable, Simon Byrne, to refocus the PSNI on community policing. Such a refocusing could greatly improve community confidence in certain areas.
The PSNI, when carrying out their policing and security operations, have a duty of care to the public in terms of safety as well as in terms of remaining compliant with their responsibilities under human rights legislation and accountability mechanisms. The Performance Committee of the Policing Board carry out periodic reviews into the use of the Stop and Search Powers and continue to press the PSNI on the need to implement the recommendation, from the Board, to record the community background of those subjected to Stop and Search. Such information would be helpful in developing an evidence base which could inform future policy making in this area.
My Department will continue to engage with stakeholders, including the PSNI, to explore the reasons and incidents behind some negative perceptions of the PSNI within the Nationalist community and work to improve community confidence. The successful reform of policing, and the subsequent devolution of policing and justice powers to the Assembly, are central planks of the Peace Process and we will continue to support and protect these achievements.