Minister of Justice, David Ford, was asked what contact he has had with the Secretary of State and the Chief Constable of the PSNI regarding the murder of Kevin McGuigan during today’s Question Time. The Minister described the murders of Mr McGuigan and Gerard Davison as “cowardly and despicable acts”. Mr Ford remains in contact with the Chief Constable and Secretary of State but cannot reveal any details due to the ongoing, live nature of the investigation. In response to the Chief Constable’s belief that the murder was carried out by members of the Provisional IRA, the Minister said, “That is something that I believe requires the attention of all of us to ensure that we provide a political solution that moves away from these kinds of troubles leading to death and destruction and loss on our streets”, adding “I also believe that we need to ensure that we create the atmosphere in which an organisation that is said to not be active but clearly still has members who have engaged in criminality should fade away entirely in line with what we wish to see, particularly those of us who supported the Good Friday Agreement and its concept of moving to a different society.”
Robin Swann MLA also asked the Minister about the number of assaults on on-duty prison officers in the last four years. Mr Ford revealed that there have been 282 assaults in that time period with the main contributing factor identified as prison overcrowding. As a result a significant number of prisoners were moved from crowded residential areas in 2014 and the use of accommodation is kept under regular review. A pilot programme to evaluate the effectiveness of body-worn cameras for prison staff has also been launched and initial findings have shown that it appears to prove a significant deterrent. Discussing the resources available to the Prison Service, the Minister said that budgetary restrictions mean that he would never be fully satisfied but that good work is being done and significant progress is being made.
During the regular period for oral questions Mr Ford also answered questions on the rationalisation of the court estate, Access NI checks, legacy inquests and the current status of the Provisional IRA. During the period for topical questions the Minister continued to answer Members’ questions on paramilitaries, NIACRO funding, waste water treatment at Magilligan and sectarian hate crimes.