Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120
WEDNESDAY 8 NOVEMBER 2000
120. I want to pick up a point that you referred
to just a moment ago. You draw attention to what you see as a
defect in the new management structure in that there is the no
direct input from governors?
(Mr McAleer) Yes.
121. Can you tell the Committee what representations,
if any, you have made to the Director General on this point and
what response you have received?
(Mr McAleer) On that specific point I have not made
that representation directly to the Director General as yet, but
in general the Director General is very approachable. I will be
at an early date speaking to him and that will be one of the concerns
that I have, that I would regard it as a retrograde step to take
governing governors off the SPG Committee. He has his reasons
for it and, in fairness, I have to tell you that I have not spoken
to him about it, but I will be doing so soon.
122. Do you consider that governors should sit
on the Prison Service management Board?
(Mr McAleer) Yes.
(Mr Newman) Yes.
(Mr McAleer) For a number of reasons. One very obvious
reason is that as it is comprised now there is no-one on that
board who has in-depth knowledge of the Northern Ireland Prison
Service, and I think it will give a nice balance, if nothing else,
if you had that experience. That is the reason.
Mr Hunter: That is perfectly sensible.
124. Good afternoon. The Association criticises
the use of "Cost per Prisoner Place" as a measure of
the efficiency of the Service. What would you consider to be more
meaningful measures? What evidence do you have that the centralised
administration in Northern Ireland is disproportionate compared
to other parts of Great Britain?
(Mr McAleer) That is quite a number of questions in
there. I will deal with them one by one. "Cost per Prisoner
Place." A number of years ago I did a study on "Cost
per Prisoner Place" between England and Northern Ireland,
and I also looked at staff/prisoner ratios. There is a number
of anomalies that are there. For example, are you going to compare
like with like? So if you have a big service like England you
can have jails which are running 24 hour lock-ups with three prisoners
in a cell, which can run very efficiently. If we were to do the
same in Maghaberry and have no regime we could run it pretty efficiently.
The thing about England is that it has a whole lot of jails which
run more economically, but not necessarily better, and they have
a number of jails which are economically worse off. The YOC, at
the time I did the study, actually does not come at the bottom
of the scale compared to England. There are English YOIs that
are better run in terms of cost, but there are others which cost
more. So you have to be very careful if you compare like with
like. If you take high-security operations in England, they are
normally not a full jail, they are normally a unit of a jail,
and if you costed out that unit price on some occasions it is
more expensive. So that is the point I would make about that.
You were asking me another question. You will have to refresh
my memory about what that was.
125. About what the centralised administration
in Northern Ireland is.
(Mr McAleer) If you look back to 1969 and look at
the size of the Northern Ireland Office, which comprised of about
15 peopleand an interesting aside, which people in here
know more about than meI think when the British Empire
was at its peak the War Office comprised of about 15 people as
well. So you could say that if you did that comparison we would
perhaps be out of step. If you look at the Scottish Service, their
equivalent is much less than ours. Compare it with outside industry,
I have worked for organisations outside employing considerably
more people with considerably more industrial relations work to
do where the personnel offices were only a quarter of the size
of our personnel office. So I can say, yes, there is room for
somebody to look at that. Also there is needless duplication.
If you take departments, one that would spring to mind is the
Litigation Department. Why we have a Litigation Department at
Headquarters I do not know, because it is not necessary. It is
not really our remit. As an Association we need to look at that.
We would see that as being a management function and I do believe
that the Director General and has his deputy are looking at that.
Certainly our view would be, yes, it is probably something that
needs to be looked at and we would not specifically see it as
being our remit.
126. Has there been any progress since the Association
gave evidence in 1998 in the opening up of most senior posts in
the Service to staff in the governor grades?
(Mr McAleer) If you are talking about opportunity
posts, yes, I believe there has been movement along those lines.
I know it is the policy of the Director General to identify senior
governors to give them special training and to cross-deploy them
and give them experience of other parts, not only just in Headquarters,
but I believe he has other things in mind and other services,
and even over here, I think, as well. So there are plans to do
(Mr Newman) I am probably an example of that happening.
My experience in the Service is almost 26 years. I came through
the uniform grades and crossed into the governor grades, and I
have recently been brought to Headquarters at the express wish
of the Director of Operations, to bring operational experience
into Headquarters. That would be regarded, certainly by myself
and our Association, as an opportunity type post where we are
brought in for a period of approximately two years to contribute
to the Headquarters' policy making and decision making.
127. So progress has been made?
(Mr Newman) Yes.
128. The Service has performed commendably well
against the targets set for it. The Association's paper comments
though that, "we would have some reservations concerning
continuing inefficiencies and inappropriate levels of accountability
within the Service." Would you like to elaborate on these?
(Mr McAleer) What I am referring to there again is
that although a lot of things have been devolved down, Headquarters
still seem reluctant to devolve everything, and that is basically
it. Mostly it seems to be the money side of things. The tend to
hold on to the manpower budgets, which we feel they should let
go of. If you are a manager outside and you manage a factory,
you manage it all, the budget as well, and that is what we are
referring to. The proper people to manage that are the people
who are accountable and responsible for the delivery, not somebody
who is not responsible, and that is what I meant. My reading of
the Director General's intentions are that he would not disagree
Mr Thompson: Thank you very much.
129. As in 1998, the Association expresses some
concerns about pay and conditions. What concerns does the Association
have about the forthcoming review?
(Mr McAleer) As an Association we always have reservations
about pay and conditions. It is part and parcel. There is a review
being undertaken at the moment into an incentive scheme for governors,
and our concern there is, basically, the type of scheme they will
be coming up with. Sometimes we tend to copy what other Services
are doing and our specific concern would be that they adopt the
one that is in England and Wales at the moment, which does not
really impress us. It is a very complicated system that most people
who are working in it do not even understand. We are not against
incentive schemes, all we have said is that if they are going
to do this, we want to get involved in it, and see that they produce
a scheme the people who are working for them understand. That
is all. In fairness, they are involving us in it at an early stage.
I was with Jim Alford and the management consultants yesterday,
so they are involving us in it. That was my only concern, to come
up with something we can understand.
Mr Beggs: Thank you.
130. Many of us who new very little about the
prisoner state in Northern Ireland have come to have an enormous
amount of respect and sympathy for you and your colleagues in
the intensely difficult work that you have done and the very high
standards you have obtained, at least over the last 30 years.
One of the consequences of change has been an enormous restructuring
within the Service in Northern Ireland, particularly with the
closure of HMP Maze. You are now operating a system whereby you
are not operating a segregated regime in there, yet you still
have some people who come under the category of paramilitary prisoners.
How does it work?
(Mr McAleer) You would be specifically talking about
Maghaberry Prison. At this moment in time there are no problems
in Maghaberry Prison. There are three people there who have left
the Maze and have taken a judicial review. They are being kept
in a segregated situation at the moment. Depending on the outcome
of what the judiciary may do, we may have problems in the future,
but at this moment in time there are no problems in Maghaberry
Prison that I am aware of. Everything seems to be going okay.
They are not experiencing any problems. Whether that will continue
to be the case, I do not know.
131. There may be a consequence of any judicial
review externally, but internally there are no problems.
(Mr McAleer) At the moment.
132. Are there, perhaps, pressures within Maghaberry
at the moment?
(Mr McAleer) Not really. I was specifically
talking to a few colleagues lately about this particular thing,
and not really. There are problems in any prison, and I was asking
them specifically and they said no. What will happen in the outcome
of the judicial review, I do not know.
133. You mention Maghaberry, are your members
happy with the concentration of prisoners on the site, because
there has been some discussion about development of an additional
operational site within the prisoner state in Northern Ireland
to enhance diversity of facilities, and I am not talking about
son of Long Kesh or nephew of whatever, but an additional site?
What are your members' views on that?
(Mr McAleer) We are there to assist the management,
and whatever decisions are taken, we will do our best to work
along with them. We do not have a specific view about that as
134. You do not?
(Mr McAleer) No, not really.
Mr Pound: I admire your restraint, and repeat
my earlier thanks and admiration. Thank you.
135. Continuing what Mr Pound has been asking,
the Prison Service witnesses said last week that although there
was no overt campaign at Maghaberry at the moment for the introduction
of segregated paramilitary prisoners, they did say that something
might surface at any time. Would you agree with that?
(Mr McAleer) Yes.
136. What response do you think there should
be to that campaign?
(Mr McAleer) Well, at the end of the day what we are
doing is second guessing what organisations may do. Our reading
of the situation, rightly or wrongly, is that the reason there
is nothing happening at Maghaberry at the minute is that they
are awaiting the outcome of the judicial review to see if it will
go their way. That is why they are quiet now. If it does not go
their wayI do not know what the judge might sayif
it does not go their way, then I expect they will do something,
137. In the light of your experience over the
years how would you react to a move for the re-introduction of
(Mr McAleer) Most governors would not want to go down
that road,because there have been lots of mistakes. They say you
should learn from history, but history teaches us that we never
learn from mistakes. Bear in mind that, again, we are there to
help the Director General and we will help, but with advice. At
the end of the day the responsibility is his, and also the Ministerthere
are political questions hereand we will try and assist
in whatever decision they decide to make.
138. Your distinct preference would be?
(Mr McAleer) If someone asked us, we would say, "No,
don't go down that road. That was a mistake."
Mr Hunter: Thank you.
139. I think, Mr Chairman, it is usual to declare
interests. I have five convictions for which I have served sentences,
so it is very good to have Mr McAleer and Mr Newman in my establishment
this time, having been in their's on a number of occasions. Having
been there for very short periods of time for political protests,
I should say for the record, I am aware of the tensions that exist
within the Prison Service, at a time when it was at a much higher
level than it would be today, I suspect. One thing I noticed during
those periods was that the tension was not simply a tension between
the prisoners and the prison officers, but there was also a tension
between prison officers and governors. I was wondering, has the
removal of the Maze and the release of the vast bulk of paramilitary
prisoners reduced the tension in all of those areas, including
the tensions that have existed in the past between the prison
officers and governors?
(Mr Newman) The short answer is, yes, it has. I think
you have to, again, look back at history. It is well documented
and well known to everybody the type of prisoner that went into
Maze Prison, what happened there, the concerted campaigns by the
prison population and their efforts to condition staff. Part of
that conditioning was to undermine the very structure of the prison
system in the Maze in particular, and part of that was to promote
conflict between staff at all levels with each other and with
their managers. Certainly, that was not too common outside the
Maze Prison, but it certainly was in the Maze. I would suggest
that my own synopsis of relationships in the Northern Ireland
Prison Service at the moment is that despite the massive reduction
in staff we have gone through and despite ongoing changesmorale
was mentioned earlier, and I would suggest that morale is fairly
high. I do not know how you quantify or judge morale, but that
is another matterbut to answer your specific question,
I am certainly not aware, having just left an operational establishment
some six weeks ago, of any of the problems that may have been
evident in the past year. The change has been embraced by the
majority of staff at all levels. There is a fostering, I might
suggest, of team spirit which has entered the Prison Service,
and it is long overdue.
(Mr McAleer) I would add something. In any organisation
it is not usual for everybody to 100 per cent always like the
boss, so we are not saying that we have cured that and everybody
likes everybody else. By and large there is a change that I have
noticed. I recently took over a court escort group and it was
very unusual. I was used to working with people who did not want
to be where they were, because I used to work in the Maze and
all the staff did not want to do that job. It was refreshing to
go to an organisation and go and talk to staff who really wanted
to be there, and I have noticed that. So I would say, yes, there
is a change, but I do not want you to think that in the Prison
Service nobody talks about the boss, we are not at that stage