15/11/2011

Prison Service Badge To Lose 'Crown'

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The NI Prison Service is again back in the news today after the Justice Minister, David Ford told the Stormont Assembly that the service would have to consider changes to emblems if it was serious about the current fundamental reforms.

Sharp exchanges took place took across the floor during a debate on Dame Anne Owers' report on prisons in Northern Ireland - which - among other things, has resulted in the publication of a 'Patten-style' redundancy package being offered to prison staff over the age of 50.

The Alliance party Leader was speaking during a debate on the recent review of the Northern Ireland Prison Service.

But, Jim Wells of the DUP said such changes would be totally unacceptable and the former DUP party member, now TUV Leader, Jim Allister said many in the unionist community would be appalled by the removal of the crown from the badge or the title "Her Majesty's Prison".

Also commenting, the Lagan Valley MLA and Chair of the Assembly's Justice Committee Paul Givan has responded to comments made by the Justice Minister David Ford in the Assembly.

"Any attempt by the Northern Ireland Prison Service to strip the title HMP from its title and the Prison Service Badge from the uniform will be rigorously opposed.

"The botched handling of this issue by the Minister will cause deep hurt and anger amongst past and serving members of staff; 29 of whom were murdered and many more injured as result of the uniform they wore," he said.

"David Ford cannot hide behind the Director General of the Northern Ireland Prison Service as being operationally responsible for a decision of such magnitude.

"He is the Minster and ultimately he is responsible for any action taken by the Department and its agencies. The Minister should immediately withdraw this grossly insulting and offensive proposition," he fumed.

But, a Sinn Fein MLA and member of the NI Justice Committee, Sean Lynch, has said Justice Minister David Ford must take ownership of the radical change needed in the Prison Service.

Speaking after a Sinn Fein motion calling on the Justice Minister not to delay in implementing the recommendations of the Prison Review Team Sean Lynch said: "The reform of the Prison Service is one of the biggest challenges David Ford will face in his role as Minister of Justice.

"The Anne Owers Review is the latest in a series of critical reports and reviews into the Prison Service. All had a common thread - the Prison Service is not fit for purpose, living in a different era and in need of fundamental root and branch change.

"The momentum must not be lost and change should not be left to those who have been in charge to date.

"I call on the Minister to ensure this happens. He must take ownership and become the driver in the overall managing process.

"The report states clearly ‘that the next six months are vital’ and I agree. A delay will give those with the intention of cherry-picking and who have a culture of resistance, the chance to gain the upper hand, leaving the Minister with an even greater challenge." he said.

(BMcC/GK)

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