Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220-239)



  220. I refer to the statistics. On page six there is a list of referral agencies. I am not sure what the initials on the left-hand side stand for, maybe if you can just explain them to us and state where organisations like Maranatha would fall in that?
  (Ms Lyner) The first one would be social services, health trusts. The next one is the Probation Board for Northern Ireland.


  221. It is probably sensible if we make clear that we are dealing with page six.
  (Ms Lyner) Absolutely. Then we have the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. Then we have voluntary organisations. Probably any one of those that we have referenced there, were it to be FAIT or the Peace People or Maranatha, would be voluntary. "Comm" would be community, any level of community grouping. "Self" is the individual turning up at our door. "Other" is a catch-all for other. "Training school" would be the juvenile justice system. Others may also be through the Prison Service and the clergy who will be wanting to sort it out for somebody who is returning to an area.

Mr Barnes

  222. That is fruitful in understanding the bodies that they are associated with. Maybe I could just return briefly to the client outcome figures on pages five and six. I have been trying to count up the different sets of numbers to see what balanced. All along I find that the figures balance with the initial numbers, apart from when it comes to client outcome. In 1995 the totals there add up to 171 but there were another 53 that were referred to elsewhere. In 1996 there were 555 which was only eight short. In 2000 there are 554, which is 34 short. Presumably there is some difficulty in assessing the client outcomes and getting all the details down in connection with them and if there is a bigger client response in some years than other years that might affect our understanding of the statistics?
  (Ms Lyner) Yes. I am also saying to you that every figure we have given you here is not safe and that the evaluation will deal with some of those issues for us. It is also to do with the voluntary nature of people's relationships with us. They are under no obligation to do anything that we organise for them or to come back to the office or have any connection in that way, so follow-up is a difficult thing. We are doing our best to gather the information but I think it is important to look at what the trends are and what the impact on other resources are. That is what we are left with.


  223. I do not want to impose massive extra work on you because you have been exceptionally helpful with the information you have already provided, but it does occur to me that in terms of the passage of time, a client might not necessarily refer back to the referral agencies, or are you saying they do? In other words, if you take, as Mr Barnes did a moment ago, a specific year like 1995, where there was quite a marked discrepancy, would it be the case that the number of referrals, which was 224, embraces each of the figures which you have recorded under client outcome in 1995 even though the client outcome may come some time after the referral, so that it could easily come in a subsequent year?
  (Ms Lyner) That is a very helpful explanation.
  (Mr Conway) That could happen.

  Chairman: I do not want to put you to massive work but if, in fact, when you look at the figures they look odd, you could add any kind of footnote or postscript as to why you think they might be odd, that would be very helpful.

  Mr Beggs: Good afternoon and welcome to our Committee. I was very pleased today, Chairman, to discover that Larne was not listed among the statistics.

  Mr Pound: Yet.

Mr Beggs

  224. What view does NIACRO take of Community Restorative Justice Programmes? Does NIACRO seek to work with these in any particular locations?
  (Mr Conway) Going back, again, to basic principles, we will support any organisation that is working within the field of the criminal justice system that adheres to basic tenets of non-violence and subscribes to a human rights value system. That is the first thing. We do support, and actively support, a variety of Community Restorative Justice Programmes and we are in the process of developing our own practice base in relation to providing our own Restorative Justice Programmes which could take place. We are pre-empting a discussion and a debate within NIACRO at the moment but certainly we would see a role for ourselves in either providing or contributing to a partnership relationship with other bodies in respect of, for example, Restorative Justice Programmes or mediation programmes within the prison system in relation to sex offenders, in relation to schools. I want to stop there because there is a point four but I have forgotten it, apologies.

  Mr Pound: That comes in next year's figures.

Mr Beggs

  225. Thank you.
  (Mr Conway) That is very distinct. Those areas of work have yet to be developed and discussed within NIACRO and with other organisations.

  226. Do those organising these Community Restorative Justice Programmes actually come to NIACRO before they proceed to set up their organisations?
  (Mr Conway) It varies. Obviously the whole area of Community Restorative Justice Programmes and Restorative Justice Programmes in general are reflective very, very significantly from the Criminal Justice Review. If one was to compare or examine the landscape five years ago it did not feature at all as an issue, now you have it incorporated within the Criminal Justice Review. I am not quite sure, I could speculate as to what the drivers for that are but clearly there is also an issue of Community Restorative Justice, i.e. Restorative Justice Programmes, controlled by the community, in a sense, or control lying within those communities. Providing that those projects adhere to, again, principles of non violence and human rights, we would support that and have quality standards and protocols that are very, very transparent.

  227. There has recently been press comment about research, which has been carried out by Professor Knox and co-workers at the University of Ulster, into paramilitary intimidation in Northern Ireland. Has NIACRO had a chance to study any of Professor Knox's papers on this subject and, if so, does it have any observations on them? In particular, do his factual findings accord with NIACRO's own experience?
  (Ms Lyner) Well, what I would have to say at this stage is that we have only had the opportunity to see the four page synopsis in the general arena at this stage. I think we would want at this stage to withhold substantive comment on the article. I think the synopsis as far as we would view it is both dated and shallow, especially in terms of the paragraph that referred to disjointed approach. It references a range of voluntary and statutory organisations who, as far as we are aware, have not had significant practice in this area, if ever, but certainly not for some time, so hence the dating issue. It talks about a disjointed statutory sector response and certainly that is not the evidence of our connection with this piece of work in the last number of years. People have been more or less on board at different times but we have more or less been able to maintain the service and keep the level of practice at the level of security we require. We need to reserve judgment but certainly at this stage we do have a number of concerns that what has been evidenced appears to us not to be pertinent to the current moment and in terms of what is helpful to us in moving on in this difficult area we do not see it as being particularly so.

  Mr Beggs: I am sure if you do complete an assessment internally on what has been produced we would welcome your fuller observations. Can I just finish by saying, Chairman, that in my own experience some of my former wayward pupils were very, very well reformed through the good work of NIACRO. Thank you.

Mr Pound

  228. I was wondering whether Mr Beggs' example led to the criminality or improvement later on. I am sure you are an example. Good afternoon. Can I just say one of the many curses of life in Northern Ireland is that from our perspective it is often viewed through a distorted prism of United Kingdom life or British life. In most of this country, NIACRO is the National Association for Care and Rehabilitation of Offenders, which specifically deals with people who have offended. But a great many of the people that you deal with do not commit offences, they are victims. Why do you call yourself NIACRO?
  (Ms Lyner) I think you are raising two different issues here. In terms of the vast body of work that the organisation does in terms of its training, employment, resettlement, youth justice work, the work to support families, the vast majority of the work that it does is with adjudicated offenders and increasingly so.

  229. Fine.
  (Ms Lyner) In terms of the work that we are doing within Base 2 there, would be a significant percentage of individuals also who are both offenders and victims and who have been through either the criminal justice process or who have not gone through the criminal justice system but there are bench warrants and other issues in terms of the activities that they have been involved with. So they fit on both sides of that, they are offenders on the one hand and victims on the other.

  230. You do not feel there is a problem with those people who may be victimised entirely on the basis of their own innocence because of their own religion, creed, colour or whatever, that they are approaching the organisation which is predicated for offenders. Do you think there is any problem there?
  (Mr Conway) I think for some individuals there may be a chill factor there. I can recall one incident where it was very, very clear the person under threat, as with a significant amount of other people, there was no question they had committed any offence of any description apart from to have offended a particular group in a non-criminal way. I cannot recall exactly the case but it could have been around something said about a particular group which was not of itself criminal. I think for people in that sort of situation, yes there are difficulties in terms of going along to an organisation such as NIACRO, which has a very clear public remit in terms of dealing with ex-offenders and ex-prisoners. There may be a chill factor there and we would acknowledge that.

  231. I apologise for going back through the data. I absolutely concur with the statement of the Chairman that it has been very, very helpful and comprehensive. I think it is perhaps a reflection of the Members of this Committee that we have been cross correlating it and adding it up. One of the dramatic difficulties is that in a quarter of the cases referred to you where people had a perception of being under paramilitary threat, no such paramilitary threat actually existed. What happens when you go back to someone who says "I am the potential victim of paramilitaries" and you come back or one of your officers comes back and says "Actually, no", what on earth happens?
  (Ms Lyner) It is how that perception has been built up in their heads that is important. In some situations it may be that they feel they were seen undertaking some action that was perhaps inappropriate so they are concerned to check out whether they have been seen at that. There are other situations where within neighbourhoods there are ongoing disputes that they are trying to check out whether or not they are factored into that ongoing dispute. There are also situations where an individual is under threat and he would like to go with a group of peers and suggest to them that they are also under threat. As with all human nature, there are a range of reasons why people may feel themselves to be under threat and it is our responsibility to ensure that before we do spend any resources at any level on relocation we check out that threat exists and in terms of value for money we are obviously evidencing that.

  232. My final question, you state formally and for the record that you have no links with paramilitary groups. Therefore, how do you know that a person is not under paramilitary threat?
  (Ms Lyner) It is the same links we use in terms of affirming if there is one to affirm if there is not one. We put out contacts through our community contacts to make a view and make contacts there and to come back to us with an assessment. The assessment is either yes they are or no they are not. So it is the same links which bring back the information that they are which bring back the information that they are not.

  233. In the case of demonstrating paramilitary threat we have all heard of the style of bullets through letterboxes and graffiti sprayed on front doors and death threats and God knows what and I think that is fairly tangible. In the case of establishing that there is not that threat, are you saying that you have a filtration process where there are people that you liaise with, that you trust sufficiently, who then liaise with the paramilitaries who then transmit that information back to you?
  (Ms Lyner) Yes, and they trust us with that information.

  234. That was a given.
  (Ms Lyner) Over the years we have found that to have been—

  235. And it works?
  (Ms Lyner) Yes.
  (Mr Conway) If you total the number of cases that have been dealt with it comes to approximately 4,000, so there is a significant degree of experience there held between quite a small number of people.

  236. The empirical evidence is what they are giving you is accurate, there is no element of misinformation or malice?
  (Mr Conway) No.

  Mr Pound: That is very, very impressive. Thank you.

Mr Thompson

  237. Looking at the figures it seems that in recent years people have not left the country, they have not left the city, but, in fact, they have moved to a different area within the city. That seems to me to be a trend that is developing. Maybe they live in an area that they do not like or are not happy in, are you satisfied that they do not use that as a means to try to move to an area where they would be more happy?
  (Mr Conway) Most people who come to us are highly distressed, that is the first thing. There has been the very, very odd case of individuals who, if you like, want to go on holiday to London and bring their friends along. If we say to them "no, we are not going to acquiesce to that notion. If you are under threat and want to go through this process, we are saying we will relocate you somewhere locally whilst making appropriate and as high quality arrangements as we can make", people sometimes say "oh, that is fine" and walk away from that. There have been instances where that has happened. Sorry, could you repeat the first part of your question? I think you were referring to the potential for abuse where people might want to relocate to other areas.

  238. Are you satisfied that does not go on, the abuse of the system to go to a better area?
  (Mr Conway) Yes. People can use other avenues to achieve better housing or better accommodation.

  239. Are most of these relocations in public housing rather than private housing?
  (Ms Lyner) Yes. I think the other element to recognise within all of that in terms of our developing practice is that in an attempt to put together what is likely to be a useful placement that will last for some length of time, it is helpful if it is somewhere close to where people have their family, where they have their connections, so they do not have to leave some of the other social networks that they are involved in. So the notion of not necessarily having to leave Belfast but to go to another part of Belfast will, in fact, increase the chances of that working as a placement. If we send them to somewhere in England or to Ballymena or wherever else, they will be back in their area fairly quickly. The chances of actually keeping them away, if that is what they need to be, are improved if there is something that seems close to what they are used to. That would be our developing practice and it also costs less.

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