Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NIACRO)

  NIACRO welcomes the decision of the Northern Ireland Select Committee to examine the issue of punishment beatings. For the past nine years, NIACRO has been working, through its Base2 programme, with people under threat of punishment beatings, with the objective of removing the threat to the individual. In that time, over 3,000 individuals and 600 families have sought our assistance. Ideally, we operate to remove the threat completely, enabling the person under threat to stay in their community. If it proves to be impossible, we assist individuals and families to physically move to a safe location.

  NIACRO would be very much welcome the opportunity of making a detailed submission to the Committee. At this stage we provide copies of the most recent annual reports of Base2[1] that give a clear indication of the nature of our service. Perhaps more importantly, they also provide an accurate view of the nature and scope of the problem. Base2 statistics have become, alongside RUC statistics, one of the most accurate sources of data that describe this problem. The statistical information provides details of:

    —  The numbers of cases Base2 handles in any one year.

    —  The type of client seeking support who are under threat; age, sex, individual or family, community background.

    —  Where the client lives.

    —  The source of the threat.

    —  The alleged behaviour that has resulted in the threat.

    —  The source of the referral.

    —  The action taken to remove the threat.

  This work is fraught with difficulties. During the nine years of operation of Base2, the attitude of government to our work has changed, depending on the political cicumstances that pertained at any given time. So, initially the work of Base2 was supported entirely by private donations. Subsequently the Probation Service supported the progamme enabling funding to be accessed from Making Belfast Work.

  After the ceasefires of the paramilitary organisations and the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, government funding for Base2 was ended. It was argued by government and the Probation Service that to financially support Base2 was to implicitly endorse continued paramilitary violence as, in the context of the Good Friday Agreement, the main paramilitary organisations through their poliical representatives had clearly given an undertaking that such violence would end.

  It is worth noting at this stage that NIACRO's view about Base2 services is that it is a "fire fighting service" that we will attempt to maintain as long as people are under physical threat. We do recognise the political difficulties inherent in supporting this kind of service, but we believe that our charitable objectives and values obligate us to continue to work to ensure that individuals and families are protected, as far as it is possible, from physical violence.

  Since Making Belfast Work funding ended, we have managed to continue the service through private donations and some support from the Peace and Reconciliation Programme. More recently the Base2 programme has taken on a short-term contract under the asylum seekers programme run by the National Asylum Support Service. This work is likely to end in October of this year.

  Because of the controversial nature of this work, we have not actively sought media interest in our work. Indeed for many years we discouraged such interest. As we are sure the Committee is aware, the subject of punishment beatings is a subject of fierce political debate. Furthermore the discussion of Base2 work could obviously have consequences and risks for the individuals we were trying to protect. In this context we felt that to comment publicly on our work could have seriously damaged our ability to deliver our service. The media substantially supported us in this wish. Whilst Base2 services were and are regularly used as background information, our desire to maintain a confidential and unpublicised service has in large part been honoured.

  However, we very much want Base2 services to be examined critically to ensure that they fulfil our objectives. Currently the programme is being independently evaluated by Professor Harry Mika from the University of Michigan. We hope his evaluation will enable NIACRO to continue to improve what we believe is a very effective and essential service.

  Whilst the statistical information presented in the enclosed reports gives a broad view of the nature of our work, we would welcome the opportunity to present a more detailed analysis to the Committee. This would include a description of the methods Base2 uses to protect persons under threat. We would also hope to provide the Committee with an insight into the causes of such threats. This would include a view of the type of individuals referred to Base2 and the circumstances that exist in their communities that lead to such referrals.

  We believe our work does have implications for the continued implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, which we support. NIACRO has and will continue to work to end all political violence. Base2 is part of those efforts. We look forward to a time, hopefully in the not too distant future, when the services of Base2 will no longer be required.

  I hope this letter and the enclosed information provide an introduction to our work. If you require further written information please let me know. We would also be happy to meet with the Committee or members of the Committee to provide a more detailed account of our services and activities.

  Finally, it has become clear through Base2 work that the reintegration of persons excluded from their communities is now a major priority. This will require delicate local negotiations together with substantial change in the practice of statutory agencies, to facilitate reintegration. NIACRO has begun a programme to support re-entry of persons previously excluded: This work is funded through Making Belfast Work, supported by the Probation Service. A detailed report is attached.[2]

24 July 2000

1   See the List of Unprinted Papers, p vi. Back

2   Evidence not reported. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 19 July 2001