Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2008/2009

Date: 12 May 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Raymond McCartney (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Alex Attwood
Mr Nelson McCausland
Mr Alan McFarland
Mr Alex Maskey
Mr John O’Dowd

The Deputy Chairperson (Mr McCartney):

We will now discuss matters that relate to devolution of policing and justice. I ask members to declare their particular interests.

Mr McCausland:

I am a member of Belfast District Policing Partnership.

Mr A Maskey:

I am a member of the Policing Board.

The Deputy Chairperson:

We shall follow the same procedures as previously. If anything has changed, members can make the Committee aware of it. I refer members to the original issue C:

“What should be the relationship between SOCA and the Security Services and the Minister/Department/Assembly?”

Mr McCausland:

My party will revisit that matter when it gets an update.

Mr A Maskey:

My party’s position remains the same.

Mr McFarland:

So, too, does my party’s position.

Mr Attwood:

My party’s position also remains the same.

The Deputy Chairperson:

I refer members to new issue D:

“What needs to be done to ensure the maintenance of existing North/South policing and justice agreements, and is there a requirement for a Justice Sector of the North South Ministerial Council?”

I refer members to the British Secretary of State’s recent letter, which is dated 8 May 2009.

Mr McCausland:

People want time to digest the letter’s contents and to receive supplementary information. My party’s position has not changed.

Mr A Maskey:

My party’s position remains the same.

Mr McFarland:

As I understand from the latest letter, the policing part will continue unaffected and the justice part will be subject to an exchange of letters that will set up a relationship between the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government, which, theoretically, solves the first part. My party’s view is that there is no requirement for a justice sector.

Mr Attwood:

I refer to questions that were asked earlier in the meeting about what the Secretary of State’s letter means.

The Deputy Chairperson:

I now turn to new issue F:

“What, if any, consideration should there be of the Ashdown Report on parading, and is there a need for further clarity of the powers to be devolved, and, if so, should they include matters relating to the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998, flags and symbols and recruitment to the PSNI?”

I again refer members to the letter that is dated 8 May 2009.

Mr McCausland:

Again, until we see what Ashdown produces, it is difficult to come to a position on that matter.

Mr A Maskey:

I have nothing further to add to my party’s previous position.

Mr McFarland:

My party’s position has not changed since last week. Have we skipped new issue E, which deals with finance?

The Deputy Chairperson:

Sorry. That is my mistake. We will return to it.

Mr Attwood:

I refer to what we said previously, but I am surprised that the Secretary of State has given a shot in the arm to Ashdown. Ashdown was quietly going to sleep — not Ashdown himself, but the impetus behind his strategic review of parading. In his letter to the Committee that is dated 8 May 2009, Mr Woodward said:

“I am however confident that when the Report is published it will offer a sustainable long term solution to the issues surrounding parading in Northern Ireland.”

I see that as the British Government giving a shot in the arm to the Ashdown review to get the DUP lined up for future developments. The Ashdown review should have been history by now, but the British Government are lining that up to accommodate DUP interests in the near future.

The Deputy Chairperson:

OK. I will return to new issue E:

“What is the extent of the financial provisions for a department which would exercise the range of policing and justice functions?”

Mr McCausland:

Is that about whether the budget should be ring-fenced? I have nothing further to add to that today.

Mr A Maskey:

We have nothing to add.

Mr McFarland:

We have nothing to add.

Mr Attwood:

We have nothing further to add.

The Deputy Chairperson:

We will move on to new issue G:

“In the context of Recommendation 26 of the Committee’s original report, to which Department should the Public Prosecution Service be attached?”

I remind members that we will visit other legislatures to inform our decision on new issue G.

Mr McCausland:

We are waiting until the visits are out of the way.

Mr A Maskey:

We have nothing further to add.

Mr McFarland:

We have nothing further to add.

Mr Attwood:

We have nothing further to add.

The Deputy Chairperson:

New issue H:

“In the context of Recommendation 27 of the Committee’s original report, about examining the independence and accountability of the Public Prosecution Service, before, and following devolution, what consideration should be given to this matter, pre-devolution?”

Mr McCausland:

We have nothing further to add. Although, at some point, if possible, we would like to listen to the views of the prospective Attorney General.

Mr A Maskey:

We have nothing further to add.

Mr McFarland:

We have nothing further to add.

Mr Attwood:

We have nothing further to add.

The Deputy Chairperson:

Are we going to set a time to have a discussion on that issue? Perhaps the Committee Clerk could slot it in over the next couple of weeks.

Mr McFarland:

That should happen after we have received the updated report that we have just asked for, and after the visits. The idea is that we should sit down with all the available information on how the system works in other places. Only then can we have a proper discussion and, presumably, take decisions.

Mr Attwood:

I do not agree with that. There will be a lot more conversation after the visits, because whatever we pick up on will concentrate minds. We need to have a stocktaking session on the issue of the Public Prosecution Service (PPS). Much of what we learn from the other jurisdictions will be of a structural and operational nature, which is a good thing, but we also need to bore into some of the fundamental issues about the management and practices of the PPS.

Mr McFarland:

I stand corrected, and I apologise. We had agreed to do that before the end of May.

The Committee Clerk:

Do members have a preference as to whether that discussion should take place next week or on 26 May 2009? I remind members that 26 May is the notional date on which the special adviser will come back to the Committee to present a paper in closed session. I am not saying that we cannot deal with both issues on the same day, but the special adviser is scheduled to be here on that date. It is a matter of whether members wish to discuss the matter next week or defer it until 26 May, bearing in mind that it was decided that it should be discussed before the end of May. I suspect that it will not be the final discussion on the matter and that we will be better informed after next week.

The Deputy Chairperson:

Are members content to schedule that discussion for next week?

Members indicated assent.

The Deputy Chairperson:

New issue I:

“In relation to Recommendation 30 of the Committee’s original report, who should undertake the advisory role in relation to the appointment of the Police Ombudsman?”

Mr McCausland:

We have nothing further to add.

Mr A Maskey:

We have nothing further to add.

Mr McFarland:

We have nothing further to add.

Mr Attwood:

We have nothing further to add.

The Deputy Chairperson:

New issue J:

“What procedures and protocols will there need to be between the Minister, an Assembly Committee and any newly established department and it associated agencies?”

Mr McCausland:

We will revisit that matter after the visits, and so on. We have nothing further to add at this stage.

Mr A Maskey:

We have nothing further to add.

Mr McFarland:

We have nothing further to add.

Mr Attwood:

We have nothing further to add.

The Deputy Chairperson:

New issue K:

“What would be the status of the Minister’s position in, and relationship with, the Executive Committee; and would the Minister be required to bring significant, or controversial, matters to the Executive Committee?”

Mr McCausland:

We are still considering that matter.

Mr A Maskey:

We have nothing further to add.

Mr McFarland:

We have nothing further to add.

Mr Attwood:

We have nothing further to add.

The Deputy Chairperson:

OK. That ends the session.

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