The future of peace walls was on the agenda during question time to the Minister of Justice, David Ford. The reduction of the number of peace walls is one of the Programme for Government commitments and, to date, the number of walls for which the Department of Justice is responsible has been reduced from 59 to 53. Engagement concerning a further 40 of the structures has also been a sure sign of progress. While these developments have proved encouraging, the Minister appreciates that “in some locations people do not believe that the conditions are yet right for the removal of structures” but the important thing is that there are discussions to explore what is possible. The Minister remains mindful not to “rush communities that are not ready”.
Pam Cameron pressed the Minister on what action he is taking on the increasing number of hate crimes that are taking placed in Northern Ireland. The Minister confirmed that he has “given a commitment through the Community Safety Strategy that the justice system will tackle hate crime and the harm it causes”. The Department is also working with the PSNI to promote the work of hate crime advocates and there is the Hate Incident Practical Action Scheme which is aimed at providing personal protection and safety measures at home. Mr Ford has also met with the Chief Constable, the Secretary of State and senior Police officials to discuss the latest spate of attacks.
Also discussed were the high costs of policing the Twaddell Avenue flag protests, the vacancies within Forensic Science Northern Ireland and the contact (or lack thereof) that took place between the PSNI and Department of Justice prior to the arrest of Gerry Adams. There was also a 15 minute period of topical questions in which the Minister answered questions on topics such as ‘legal highs’, search and rescue services and fuel laundering.