Justice Minister, David Ford, described the impact of drugs and alcohol on his Department during today’s Question Time. The Minister exclaimed “I have no doubt that substance misuse has an impact on expenditure in my Department, the Executive and the wider public sector” adding that research has shown that the impact of alcohol alone has cost Northern Ireland around £900m with an annual cost to the Fire Service and the Police Service of up to £280 million and a cost of up to £104 million to the courts and prisons. Responding to the overall impacts of substance misuse is a key focus of the Executive’s new strategic direction on alcohol and drugs with the Minister adding “while working in an environment of financial constraints, my Department remains committed to working with others to tackle the misuse of these substances across Northern Ireland.”
Mr Ford then provided the House with an update on the development of the historical investigations unit (HIU), which will investigate outstanding Troubles-related deaths and take on the legacy work of the Historical Enquiries Team and the Police Ombudsman. The Minister confirmed that “my officials continue to work with colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office to finalise the legislation that will, among other things, establish the HIU.” The legislation however is subject to the ongoing political talks and the resolution of the difficulties in implementing the Stormont House Agreement. Preparation work for the implementation of the HIU has already begun and will continue as the legislation is debated in Parliament. The Minister urged “I have stated previously that the Stormont House Agreement Bill, and the HIU in particular, represents a unique opportunity to address some of the difficult issues of our past. I once again urge the parties to work creatively to reach political agreement. We simply cannot afford to miss the chance finally to build structures that are capable of dealing with our troubled past.”
During Question Time the Minister also answered questions on the National Crime Agency, legacy inquests, a strategy for domestic violence and organised crime. During the period for topical questions Mr Ford also discussed peace walls, the Arlene Arkinson inquest, criminal assets and cyber crime.