Header Item Military Aircraft Landings (Continued)
 Header Item Northern Ireland Issues
 Header Item Children and Family Relationships Bill 2015: Second Stage (Resumed)

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 869 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly] Information appeared in the press on Tuesday about two people who said they had seen such armoury on the actual planes. Does the Minister think that the Department should intervene and do something about that as it took place on civilian aircraft?

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan If there are people, including the Deputy and the Deputy by her side, who have evidence, I ask that it be transmitted directly to the appropriate authorities. I believe there is a scheme of regulations and conditions involved that are transparent. I reiterate that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport bears primary responsibility for the regulation of civil aircraft. My Department deals with requests to permit the wearing of foreign uniforms in accordance with the Defence Act 1954. We will continue to monitor the situation. I understand that very serious allegations have been made by the Deputy and there are issues that are before the courts, but I reiterate that there is no intention on the part of the Government to change or modify in any way a long-standing arrangement with the US.

Northern Ireland Issues

 11. Deputy Clare Daly Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan his views in relation to the representations he has made to the British and Northern Ireland authorities in relation to the escalating tensions in Maghaberry prison and the failure to implement the stock take agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [8086/15]

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly A number of Deputies on this side of the House and from the Minister's party have been involved in a cross-party, ad hoc group relating to prisoner issues in Northern Ireland. We are deeply concerned at the deteriorating situation in Maghaberry Prison regarding serious issues of prisoner welfare and we would like to know what steps the Minister has taken to raise these issues with his counterparts in Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan There has been an increase in tensions in the prison in recent weeks. This is due in part to the issuing of threats by prisoners against Northern Ireland Prison Service officials in a context where a serving prison officer, David Black, was murdered by dissidents in November 2012. It is also related to recent construction work in Roe House intended to increase the space available to prisoners in the separated regime for association. However, it appears the well-meaning intentions behind the works were not effectively communicated in advance to inmates.

A protest by a small number of prisoners on 2 February ended with both the Northern Ireland Minister for Justice, David Ford, and the Director General of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, Sue McAllister, reporting no injuries to staff or prisoners. I am aware that some prisoners have said that they were injured during the protest. Members of the independent assessment team have since met with prisoners and prison management to hear their perspectives on the protest and on how best to take things forward.

Despite the increase in tension, I take some encouragement from renewed calls by both the Northern Ireland Prison Service and prisoner representatives for the full implementation of the stock take report. It is important that this work continue with the goodwill and support of all the relevant stakeholders. The Northern Ireland Prison Service has reiterated its commitment to the implementation of the report's recommendations. It would certainly facilitate progress if all threats against those working in the prison administration were lifted. All such threats are completely unacceptable and serve only to frustrate the process of improving the atmosphere in the prison. The independent assessment group continues with their engagement to encourage the implementation of its recommendations and would be open to a meeting with the Deputy to discuss ongoing concerns.

I have discussed prison issues with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on a number of occasions, most recently on 11 February. I also met in January with a member of the independent assessment group which completed the stock take report of September 2014. My officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade continually monitor the situation at Maghaberry Prison, including through contact with their counterparts in the Northern Ireland Office and officials in the Northern Ireland Prison Service, as well as members of the independent assessment group, and have been keeping me closely informed of developments.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly It is important to say that the Deputies who visit loyalist and republican prisoners believe our intervention is probably one of the best ways of reducing tensions and threats through respecting the rights of people in the prison system. It has been our direct knowledge that the stock take agreement has not been implemented in the manner it was supposed to have been implemented and that concessions that were supposedly to be given in terms of a reduction in controlled movement and access on the landings were being interpreted in a manner that meant a knock-back in prisoner conditions. This obviously led to an escalating situation.

  We are very concerned that there are elements that have a vested interest in keeping the status quo from both a security services and prison service perspective. There has been some incitement of prison officers by some hard-line elements in the Unionist community, which is not helpful either. The Minister must step in on this and not just accept what has been said by the establishment because we are deeply concerned about what is likely to happen and the fact that chaplaincy services were not allowed into the prison the day after the riot intervention. Legal people were not invited or allowed in either, which legitimised the concerns of people and led us to believe that they are particularly vulnerable. We ignore this situation at our peril.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan The Northern Ireland Prison Service has accepted the recommendation of the stock take report that forum meetings take place at least every two months with an agreed agenda in advance. I acknowledge there have been some difficulties in achieving agreement on a mutually accepted share of the prisoners' forum but I am sure the Deputy will agree with me that it is essential that prisoners engage with the prisoners' forum because the resolution of these difficulties is through engagement and the type of forum that is envisaged.

I acknowledge the work of the independent assessment group. I know the Deputy and others have been very much involved in this issue, particularly over the past few months, but I suggest that the Deputy engages directly with members of the independent assessment group who would be anxious to meet with any Member of the House on this issue.

  Written Answers follow Adjournment. 

Children and Family Relationships Bill 2015: Second Stage (Resumed)

  Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Deputy Ciara Conway: Information on Ciara Conway Zoom on Ciara Conway I am very glad to get some speaking time on this historic Bill. I congratulate the Minister on her efforts to bring it before the House. There is a saying that life sometimes imitates art but in my case, it is a case of politics imitating my life. When I was elected to this Dáil, I was a single parent and my daughter and I were unrecognised by the State. I am very glad to see that when passed, this legislation will change that for so many parents who parent alone for a range of different reasons. Since my election to the House, my life has moved on, like that of other people.

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