The Minister of Justice, David Ford, discussed the current level of criminal activity by dissident Republican groups during today’s Question Time. The Minister said that it is clear that dissident Republican and Unionist groups are continuing to carry out criminal activity such as drug supply, robbery, extortion and fuel laundering. Mr Ford declared that there is “a major gap in our ability to tackle serious and organised crime groups” which has led to his attempts to gain full authority of the National Crime Agency (NCA) in Northern Ireland. The proposal has the full backing of the PSNI, Home Office and NCA. The Minister hopes to come to an agreement with all political parties to bring this to fruition, citing it as the last chance to do so before trying to find other ways to plug the gaps in the system as “the consequences of failure to reach agreement on the operation of the NCA in Northern Ireland have already been felt across law enforcement”.
Mr Ford also discussed his plan of action to tackle the £340m annual cost created by alcohol abuse to the criminal justice system. The Minister has set out his action plan in the Community Safety Strategy and the over-arching strategic framework for reducing offending. The plans include the AD:EPT programme, a psychological and educational drug and alcohol programme for offenders and, at a local level, Police and Community Safety Partnerships deliver initiatives such as organising engagement with drug and alcohol related coordination teams and the ‘No Booze on Board’ campaign. The Minister conceded that “clearly, given the scale of the problem, there is much more still to do”.
The Minister also answered questions on animal cruelty punishments and the need for refurbishments at Magilligan prison. During the fifteen minute period for topical questions Mr Ford also answered questions on budget cuts for the ombudsman and policing board, abortion legislation and the drug problem in South Belfast.