Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 139)



  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.

  123. Why?
  (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.

Mr Thompson

  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 people—and an interesting aside, which people in here know more about than me—I 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 that.
  (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 with that.

  Mr Thompson: Thank you very much.

Mr Beggs

  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.

Mr Pound

  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 an Association.

  134. You do not?
  (Mr McAleer) No, not really.

  Mr Pound: I admire your restraint, and repeat my earlier thanks and admiration. Thank you.

Mr Hunter

  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 way—I do not know what the judge might say—if it does not go their way, then I expect they will do something, yes.

  137. In the light of your experience over the years how would you react to a move for the re-introduction of segregated status?
  (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 Minister—there are political questions here—and 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.

Mr Robinson

  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 changes—morale 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 matter—but 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 yet.

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