Check Against Delivery

25 November, 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for your welcome here today to Antrim.  I am delighted to join Minister David Ford this morning in opening this second annual Public Protection Advisory Group Seminar.

I wish to acknowledge also the attendance of the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, Sir Declan Morgan as the keynote speaker at today’s seminar.

I want to echo David’s comments about the close working relationship that we have developed as Ministers and that is reflected also in the co-operation between our Departments and their related services.

We often speak in somewhat abstract and formal terms about North-South co-operation and what it can achieve.  Today’s Seminar is a prime example of the practical and direct, ongoing engagement between those who are in the frontline of the criminal justice system managing offenders.  The interaction between our services is also a very good example of the potential for positive and meaningful results from cross-Border working.

In this context, I would like to thank the heads of the Probation Services, North and South, Brian McCaughey and Michael Donnellan for their leadership in driving this process of co-operation in the public protection group.  I also want to congratulate all of you who are involved in this process and who, through your active participation, make it work.

As many of you will know, Michael Donnellan will soon be moving to new challenges with the Irish Prison Service and we all wish him well.

I am heartened to see the co-operation that is taking place at a practical level between both probation services.  The many different initiatives that are being shared between our two jurisdictions are great examples of how our services can work together to increase knowledge and experience and, in doing so, to add value to their work in addressing common problems.

This concept of adding-value by learning, developing, sharing and applying best practices is all the more important given the current economic circumstances that we face and the inevitable pressures on public expenditure.  We must seek to get the maximum effectiveness from the limited resources which are at our disposal and we can help to drive that process by working together.

In particular, I think, the initiatives shared today in the area of drugs and alcohol misuse will be of great practical benefit to both services in helping to improve programmes for managing offenders with addictions and this will, in turn, help to reduce offending.

The Seminar will have a presentation of the initial findings from a recent Probation Service survey on drugs and alcohol misuse in the adult offender population who are on probation supervision in Ireland.  This will address issues of prevalence, the nature and frequency of drug and alcohol misuse, the engagement with treatment services and, of course, the links with offending behaviour.

We are all very conscious that drug and alcohol addictions and misuse can drive and contribute to criminality, and can lock individuals into cycles of offending behaviour.  We are also aware of the importance for individuals of being able to break out from their addiction or substance misuse problems in order to be able to move away from criminal behaviours.

In working that process we shouldn’t underestimate the value for practitioners of having to hand the type of research and management information that will be presented to the Seminar today.  It is an essential tool in informing and building more effective practice.

The Public Protection Advisory Group was set up in early 2006 under the umbrella of the Intergovernmental Agreement on Co-operation on Criminal Justice Matters.  Following the devolution of policing and justice matters to the Northern Ireland Assembly last year the good work in criminal justice co-operation that had been going on has continued and, indeed, it has been intensified.

This Advisory Group plays an important role in promoting a shared vision and shared practices for the two probation services which aim at achieving what are clear and common public protection goals, North and South.  We face common problems and we can address them better with co-operative solutions.

Of course, the Advisory Group doesn’t only engage our probation services in this co-operative effort.  Its work also involves essential and close collaboration with our police forces and prison services, and with the policy makers in the two Justice Departments.

The work of this Advisory Group figures prominently in the Working Group on Criminal Justice Co-operation’s 2011-2012 work programme which David Ford and I agreed earlier in the year.   Of course that work programme covers a broad range of criminal justice issues and we will have the opportunity to discuss progress with the work programme in detail later this morning.

Thank you again for your welcome here today.  I wish you well in your deliberations at today’s Seminar and, indeed, for your ongoing work within your respective organisations and also within the Advisory Group.