Magilligan closure “not a foregone conclusion”
THE closure of Magilligan is “absolutely not a foregone conclusion”, according to Justice Minister David Ford, who added that a decision will be taken on the prison “within a few months.”
Justice Minister David Ford travelled to Limavady on Monday night to address a public meeting and to hear the views of local people on proposals for the future of the prison estate, which include plans for the closure of HMP Magilligan.
Accompanied by the Director General of the Prison Service, the Director of Offender Services and the Governor of Magilligan Prison, the Justice Minister moved to assure the small crowd that their views would be listened to.
Speaking to the Sentinel beforehand, Alliance Party MLA David Ford said: “It is absolutely not a foregone conclusion. I’m here to listen. The reality is that what we have to look at are solid cases which add up. It is not the case that the number of signatures on a petition is going to be the decisive issue. We are here to protect the people of Northern Ireland by making something sensible for the future of the Prison Estate.
“The issue has to be how we manage difficult resources to provide the best service that we can provide.”
Asked whether the staff currently employed at Magilligan could expect to find employment at a new prison site if one were to be built, the Minister replied: “The uniformed staff can come and go. People can be moved and people can be moved for a variety of reasons. I presume if there was a move, people would seek to get a transfer and there will be opportunities for people who seek transfers to get them for Maghaberry, or possibly somewhere else. Still, strictly speaking there is nothing to say that a new prison would be built at Maghaberry.”
He added: “Lower grade staff cannot be forced to move. I am sure there would be a number who would seek and get employment elsewhere.”
Asked how much the dire economic situation in the North West would sway the decision making process, the Minister said: “I appreciate that it’s worrying for a lot of people. I can appreciate that local representatives can see that as a serious issue. I cannot make the views of staff and their families the defining factor. The challenge for us is to develop a prison service which serves all of the people of Northern Ireland and that can’t be from a narrow geographic focus.”
Making the opening address, the Minister said: “Tonight is not about the platform defending its position. I know there is a degree of cynicism about about the way government consultations take place but it is not the way Department of Justice consultations take place. It’s important that we weigh up all the opinions.”
Mr Ford also confirmed that the decision on the future of Magilligan will be taken in the “next few months”, saying: “The decision taken in the next few months will have to be lived with for years to come.”
While Mr Ford declined to take the stage and answer questions from the crowd, he stayed in the front and listened to the suggestions and questions from people such as East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell.
Mr Campbell asked whether the cost of paying 400 staff travel expenses to move to Maghaberry “every day, every week, every month for three years” had been factored in. He also quizzed the Prison Service on whether any consideration had been given to families from Londonderry and elsewhere who would have to make an 80 mile trip to Belfast, adding: “It is not called the Greater Belfast Prison Service, it is the Northern Ireland Prison Service.”
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Weather for Londonderry
Monday 20 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
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Temperature: 8 C to 13 C
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