Leslie Cree and Lord Morrow asked Minister of Justice, David Ford, what he can do to incorporate the National Crime Agency (NCA) in Northern Ireland’s justice system during today’s Question Time. The NCA is currently prohibited from operating in the devolved affairs of Northern Ireland. The Minister believes “there is clearly a major gap in our ability to tackle serious and organised crime groups as a result.” That is why the Minister is working with the PSNI, the NCA, the Northern Ireland Office and the Home Office in an effort to resolve the situation. Mr Ford presented a paper, composed with the co-operation of these organisations, to the political parties, the Justice Committee and the Policing Board setting out proposals regarding the NCA, “which should, in my view, enable us to achieve the full operation of the agency here.” The Minister highlighted the vulnerabilities in our justice system that could be strengthened with the help of the NCA and added that “I will continue to urge all Members to work constructively to reach agreement on the current proposal so that our law enforcement agencies and our people can benefit from the skill, expertise and resources of the NCA”.
Paul Frew also took the opportunity to ask the Minister about the departmental funding cut from the Railway Street Drug Arrest Referral and Harm Reduction Service. In the last three years the department has contributed close to £1m in funding to the service, representing approximately two thirds of the cost. The Northern Health and Social Care Trust was first informed in October 2013 that funding was at risk due to the changing financial climate. And in October 2014 the Trust received the news that increasing budget pressures would see an end to funding in January 2015. Mr Ford has met with various officials and stakeholders regarding the decision and to consider further possibilities while maintaining “the decision was not an easy one and was not taken lightly. However, following the significant cuts in funding to the DOJ in-year, it has not been possible to continue to protect front-line services”.
The Minister also answered questions on funding awarded from seized criminal assets, the criminal law on abortion consultation in Scotland and bullying among prison staff. During topical questions Mr Ford also fielded queries on clay pigeon shooting legislation, budget cuts in the Court Service and the cost of legal aid.