Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Maghaberry Prison

3. Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): What representations he has received on the separation of paramilitary prisoners from other prisoners at Maghaberry prison. [153157]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Jane Kennedy): The closing date for responses to the consultation on separation was set as 22 January. By the end of the consultation exercise, 21 submissions had been received from a variety of sources. We are currently considering those representations and will publish our conclusions shortly.

Mr. Barnes : My right hon. Friend will be aware that today sees the publication of the report from the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on the separation of paramilitary prisoners from ordinary prisoners in Maghaberry prison. It says that it was a dangerous decision for the public servants that had to implement it; that it was made for political reasons, following a campaign by dissidents; and that the trail seems to go back to 10 Downing street, where the decision may have been made by officials. May we have a guarantee that the line will now be drawn and we will not end up with the situation at Maghaberry that we used to have at the Maze, with the paramilitaries running their own areas?

Jane Kennedy: We will obviously study the report carefully and respond at the appropriate time. It is important to understand that the Steele review was of the safety of staff and prisoners at Maghaberry. On that basis, it was welcomed and endorsed by church leaders and political parties in Northern Ireland. Decisions were taken on that basis by Northern Ireland Ministers. I welcome the detail of the report, which shows how complex and dangerous it is to manage and run prisons in Northern Ireland. In accepting John Steele's recommendations, we have made it clear that there will be no return to Maze-style conditions. We are determined that prison staff must remain in control, and the physical security measures, together with the prisoner compact, are designed to achieve that.

Mr. Michael Mates (East Hampshire) (Con): When was the last time that the Secretary of State and his team took a decision contrary to all the advice received from every responsible agency in the Province, as happened over the prison issue?

Jane Kennedy: I can answer only for the decision that we took on this occasion. When we commissioned the Steele review, the terms of reference were clear: they were to examine options for improving conditions at Maghaberry prison, especially as they related to safety, for all prisoners and staff. Included in the terms of reference was the need to bear in mind the lessons of the past. I hope that that will reassure members of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

Mr. Tony Clarke (Northampton, South) (Lab): The disturbances in summer 2003 were not instigated by paramilitaries, but by integrated prisoners—the ordinary, decent criminals, or ODCs as they are affectionately known. Since those disturbances, the best

11 Feb 2004 : Column 1400

accommodation at Maghaberry has been put aside for separated paramilitary prisoners and integrated prisoners have had to double up. What assurances can my right hon. Friend give me that the facilities for the ordinary, decent criminal population will improve, thus preventing further disturbances this summer?

Jane Kennedy: I accept that there has been some reduction in the regime on offer to all prisoners in Maghaberry while we have been developing the arrangements for the separated prisoners. However, it is our intention that following establishment of the regime and the moving of the prisoners into their new accommodation, which we anticipate will take place at the end of this month, we will begin to put resources into the integrated regime that will continue to be offered in the rest of the prison.

Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): The Minister will be aware of the recent attacks on prison officers and their homes, which are linked to the whole issue of separation. Recently, the Secretary of State reached an agreement with the Prison Officers Association to appoint an independent person to assess the need for security measures at home for individual cases. Can the Minister assure me that resources will not be an issue and that if prison officers need protection in their homes it will be made available? Will she confirm that it will not be a case of a window here or there, but that she will comply with the security recommendations?

Jane Kennedy: I can give the hon. Gentleman that reassurance.

Security Situation

4. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): If he will make a statement on the security situation in Northern Ireland. [153158]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Jane Kennedy): Dissident republicans remain a threat to the peace process, as evidenced by the recent device at Shackleton barracks in Ballykelly. For the most part their activities have been thwarted, intercepted or nullified by intelligence-led policing operations. Loyalist and republican paramilitaries continue to carry out attacks and acts of intimidation against their own communities. Apart from a few isolated incidents, however, interface areas have been quiet for the past 18 months.

Mr. Bellingham : Does the Minister agree that illegal shipments of arms from Libya to the IRA played a vital role in prolonging the terrorist campaign? Now that we are reopening diplomatic and other relations with Libya, and Libya is giving information about its weapons of mass destruction, surely Colonel Gaddafi owes it to us to give us details about those illegal shipments. Does the right hon. Lady agree that that would help the decommissioning process?

Jane Kennedy: Yes, I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I would expect that the subject of arms supplied by Libya to the IRA in the past would be part of the

11 Feb 2004 : Column 1401

Government's wide-ranging discussions with Libya. The hon. Gentleman is right; such information would be of great benefit.

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh) (SDLP): The Minister will be aware that in recent years Northern Ireland Office Ministers have found it difficult, if not impossible, to decide when ceasefires had been broken. Can she give us some idea about how the international Independent Monitoring Commission will receive evidence that points to the breaking of ceasefires? Can she inform the House whether that evidence will come from police and security sources who could not give such assurances to previous Ministers?

Jane Kennedy: I am not quite sure about the point that my hon. Friend made in his last sentence, but I can assure him that the Independent Monitoring Commission will receive reports from all the areas that he identified and that it will present its reports to the two Governments.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): Will the Minister comment on the extent of the intimidation directed both at Catholic members of district policing partnerships and at Catholics who apply to join the police? What steps are the Government taking to help the police to tackle that issue—for example, by commencing an active dialogue on it with Sinn Fein?

Jane Kennedy: The attacks upon members of the district policing partnerships are being undertaken by dissident republican groups. Obviously, we are interested in speaking to whoever might have influence to bring about an end to intimidation in Northern Ireland. However, the specific attacks to which the hon. Gentleman refers are being diverted and disrupted by intelligence-led policing operations, and the police are to be commended for the work that they are undertaking. Such attacks are deplorable and the people who carry them out have no place in a democratic society.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): May I ask my right hon. Friend about the security situation for minority ethnic communities in Northern Ireland, with particular reference to the Chinese community, which has suffered appalling violence and intimidation at the hands of racist thugs? Will my right hon. Friend tell us what is being done to protect the Chinese community in Northern Ireland, and will she meet the all-party Chinese in Britain group to discuss what we can do to try to help?

Jane Kennedy: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue. New legislation is being developed that will enable the police to have more powers to deal with such attacks and will allow the courts to deal with them more rigorously. The police continue to do all that they can to divert such activity and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State is looking into the matter to see what more can be done on that front.

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): Does the right hon. Lady accept that there is a feeling of dread in Northern Ireland—given the kind of remarks that have

11 Feb 2004 : Column 1402

been made in the Chamber today about the increasing likelihood of no-warning bomb attacks from the Real IRA, the race attacks that have been taking place and general issues of criminality—at the prospect of losing 1,600 members of the security forces with the removal of the police reserve? Will she ensure that no political pressure is applied to the Chief Constable that would lead to such a decision?

Jane Kennedy: I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. As he knows, the Chief Constable will review the security situation later this summer, and following that review final decisions will be taken.

Lady Hermon (North Down) (UUP): Given the lack of confidence in the security situation at present, and particularly in prior acts of decommissioning, has any thought been given to replacing de Chastelain at the head of the independent weapons decommissioning monitoring body?

Jane Kennedy: As I hope to have the opportunity to say later today, I commend the work of General de Chastelain and the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning. No thought has been given to the matter that the hon. Lady asked about. We are grateful for the commitment that the general has shown to the peace process in Northern Ireland, and I look forward to working with him in the future—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I ask the House to come to order.

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con): A recent written answer that the Minister of State gave me showed that the full-time reserve of the Police Service of Northern Ireland accounts for roughly a quarter of all officers attached to district command units, and in the case of some local command units the proportion is much larger. In view of that, can the Government state categorically that the full-time reserve will not be sacrificed or disbanded for political reasons, and that it will be maintained for as long as its presence on the ground in Northern Ireland is necessary for the maintenance of effective local policing?

Jane Kennedy: As the hon. Gentleman will know, this is a decision that the Policing Board has in hand. Its decision will be very much informed by the advice of the Chief Constable once he has completed his review of security later this summer.

Next Section

IndexHome Page