Minister refuses to give safeguards on HMP Magilligan employment
JUSTICE Minister David Ford refused to give assurances to those who depend on HMP Magilligan for their livelihood, despite being prompted to do so by local MLA George Robinson.
Speaking at Stormont, Mr Robinson asked Mr Ford whether he would “assure those who depend on Magilligan for their livelihood that a decision will be made as soon as possible to ensure no loss of quality staff?”
The Minister replied: “The key thing is to ensure that we use the staff in the best way possible to meet the needs of prisoners from all parts of Northern Ireland.”
Local DUP man George Robinson had also requested an “update on the plans to rebuild HMP Magilligan,” to which David Ford replied: “As I have stressed on a number of occasions, further work is needed before a definitive decision can be made on the future of Magilligan prison.
“That decision will be based primarily on enhancing public protection and public safety through providing opportunities for prisoners to address their offending behaviour and preparation for release back into the community.
“I have committed to returning to the Assembly to update Members on emerging decisions following publication and subsequent consultation on the Prison Service estate strategy, including the future of Magilligan, by the end of March.”
Asked by George Robinson for assurances on behalf of staff “that a decision will be made as soon as possible”, David Ford replied: “As I have outlined, I can assure Mr Robinson that I will be back to the Assembly by the end of March to give that detail.
“Given the amount of discussion that is needed on the whole issue of the prison estate, that is an appropriate and reasonable timescale so as not to rush it but to give it full consideration.
“The issue of those who are dependent on Magilligan for their livelihood is of course, in most cases, for staff of the Prison Service. The key thing is to ensure that we use the staff in the best way possible to meet the needs of prisoners from all parts of Northern Ireland.”
Mr Ford faced further questioning from MLAs representing other parts of Northern Ireland. Former UUP leader Tom Elliot also contributed to the debate: “In an earlier statement, the Minister indicated that Magilligan might have a partial rebuild and a partial refurbishment. Is that still the view, and, if so, how will he identify which part will be a partial rebuild and which a partial refurbishment?”
The Justice Minister replied: “Mr Elliott’s question is definitely inventive, but, having said that I will come here by the end of March to give the results of the consultation and the outcome of the decision-making process, I do not believe that I am in a position to give the answers that Mr Elliott seeks in the first week of February.”
Sinn Féin MLA Raymond McCartney, representing the Foyle constituency where Derry City Council have also contributed to discussions regarding HMP Magilligan’s future, said: “Anne Owers’s report identified a gap in the links between Magilligan prison and the community in facilitating the rehabilitation process.”
He asked: “Given the stay of decision on Magilligan, will the Minister outline what steps have been taken to build up those community links so that we can be assured that there will be a proper rehabilitation process if the newbuild is at Magilligan?”
The Alliance Party Minister replied: “I thank Mr McCartney for that question, which puts its finger on the key issue of the future possible use of Magilligan. In the past, we have highlighted the difficulties of Magilligan’s location.
“Whatever some people may wish to do to replicate Robben Island in Northern Ireland, that is not the way in which you provide an atmosphere in which it is possible to rehabilitate prisoners towards the end of their sentence.
“The key issue for me was the discussions that I had personally with, for example, representatives of local business and local councils. The ongoing discussions being engaged in by my officials and the local councils are looking at the opportunities that will be present for rehabilitation.
“I am glad that those discussions, which started off with three councils, now include four: Derry, Limavady, Coleraine and Ballymoney councils are all involved in looking at the possible ways in which they could contribute to rehabilitation.
“Obviously, there is an element of that that might benefit their citizens, if their focus is geographically on Magilligan. I cannot give the detail of that. I am satisfied that progress is being made.”
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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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Wind direction: North west