Friday, 21 November 2014

Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald, T.D. and the Northern Ireland Minister of Justice, David Ford, MLA, met in Dublin today to open the fifth annual Cross Border Public Protection Seminar in Haymarket, Smithfield.

The Public Protection Seminar brings together representatives from Probation, Police and Prison Services and the Justice Departments, North and South, to consider what works in preventing offending and keeping communities safer. The event provides opportunities to share good practice and to explore ways to increase awareness of new initiatives.

The Ministers also met to discuss ongoing North-South co-operation across the range of criminal justice matters under the Intergovernmental Agreement on Co-operation on Criminal Justice Matters.

The Ministers reviewed the range of ongoing cross-Border initiatives in the areas of Youth Justice, Victims, Probation, Forensic Science, Registered Offenders and Criminal Justice and Social Diversity.

Minister Fitzgerald expressed her support for the close North South working relationship: “Since taking office as Minister earlier this year, I have worked closely with David Ford in ensuring that the co-operation in policing and criminal justice remains a priority. We face the same challenges in both parts of the island in combating crime, managing offenders and supporting victims, and we will continue to work closely together in tackling them”.

Thanking Minister Fitzgerald for hosting today’s IGA meeting, Minister Ford said: “Criminals will operate in whatever area they think they can remain outside the law. Through the collaborative successes our justice agencies have had in recent years the criminals should be getting a message that their activities will not be tolerated and they will be brought before the courts. Recent allegations regarding sex abuse of children will give a renewed emphasis to our efforts to strengthen our levels of co-operation and ensure children are protected and perpetrators punished.”

The recent publication of the Inquiry Report into Child Sexual Exploitation in Northern Ireland, which was jointly commissioned by the Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety in 2013 and the Minister of Justice, provides valuable insight to this issue. Minister Ford said: I welcome the Inquiry Report produced by Professor Marshall and I, along with colleagues within the Justice System, will now consider carefully the Inquiry Report and its recommendations.”

Both Ministers underscored the importance of victims, or those with any information, coming forward to report such crimes to the relevant authorities, particularly if they have concerns about children who may be at risk. They also reaffirmed their commitment to work collaboratively on the implementation of the European Directive on rights, support and protection of victims, which is due to come into effect from November 2015.

Following on from their earlier contacts, the Ministers discussed the very disturbing revelations in relation to the cover up of sexual abuse by paramilitary organisations. A key concern is that abusers were allowed to remain in communities or moved to communities where their activities were unknown to the authorities and the normal measures could not be taken to protect children.

The Ministers welcomed the fact that people are making information available in this regard which is being investigated and emphasised the importance of anyone with relevant information making this known to the authorities in the respective jurisdictions.

While, in the first instance, both Ministers were anxious not to take any action which would interfere in any way with ongoing investigations, they agreed to continue to consider what further measures might be taken jointly to address this issue.

ENDS.../

Note to Editors:

1. The Intergovernmental Agreement on Co-operation on Criminal Justice Matters provides a framework for increasing and enhancing co-operation on criminal justice matters. Within the framework of the Agreement, the two Ministers oversee co-operation across the range of areas in the criminal justice field.

2. The development and enhancement of co-operation under the Agreement is taken forward by a number of Project Advisory Groups covering the areas of public protection, forensic science, youth justice, victims’ issues, managing registered offenders and criminal justice and social diversity issues.