Trilateral Meeting of Justice Ministers Focus on Crime

The Minister for Justice and Law Reform, Mr. Dermot Ahern, T.D. today hosted the first trilateral meeting with his counterparts in Northern Ireland and Scotland, Minister of Justice, Mr David Ford, MLA, and Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Mr. Kenny MacAskill, MSP. The meeting was held at the Stephenstown Pond Conference Centre, Dundalk.

The Ministers had agreed to the meeting to discuss criminal justice matters, taking account of the similar issues facing each of their jurisdictions and the need for the closest possible cooperation between them.

The meeting focused primarily on issues of common interest relating to human trafficking, organised crime, forensic science, DNA databases, police training and approaches to reducing offending.

Ministers reviewed measures being taken in each jurisdiction to deal with human trafficking and the cooperation of the law enforcement authorities in coping with an evil which respects no borders. They welcomed the high level of cooperation taking place between the three jurisdictions and expressed their determination that this be continued and intensified.

Minister Ahern briefed his colleagues on developments here in relation to organised crime and the intensive measures, including substantial and wide-ranging changes in the law, which had been undertaken here. The involvement of so called dissident republican groups in organised crime was highlighted during the discussions. Again, the close cooperation of the law enforcement agencies in each of the jurisdictions was welcomed, as was the fact that Scotland had been invited to be represented at the Cross-border Organised Crime Conference, organised by the PSNI, An Garda Síochána, and Minister Ahern's and Minister Ford's Departments, due to take place next week.

Developments in relation to DNA databases, particularly at the European Court of Human Rights were discussed, and Minister Ahern briefed his colleagues on the DNA legislation which he had introduced. The scope for cooperation between Forensic Science services was also examined.

Minister Ford outlined initiatives which he was bringing forward to reduce offending and, in turn, Minister Ahern briefed the meeting on relevance to this subject of the White Paper on Crime process which he was undertaking.

Finally, Ministers discussed developments in cooperation on police training. While cooperation between An Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland was already extensive, there was a particular welcome for the participation of Scottish Police Officers in the Executive Leadership Course at the Garda College in Templemore.

Minister Ahern said:

"I was delighted to be able to host the first trilateral meeting with my colleagues from Northern Ireland and Scotland. While I have had bilateral meetings with both of them before we all felt that there would be great benefit in the three of us meeting together to discuss issues of common concern. That has certainly proved to be the case. For all of us, what this meeting has been about is learning from each others' experiences and supporting the cooperation which is so necessary so as to help keep our communities safer". 

Minister Ford said:

"Working in isolation is not an option if we are serious about combating criminals who operate across jurisdictions. At an operational level, there is excellent co-operation amongst the law enforcement agencies and today’s meeting reinforces that commitment at the highest political level. 

It is important to build on today’s meeting because the justice issues we face in Belfast are similar to those in both Dublin and Edinburgh. Working together to tackle these problems, and learning from the each others experiences, we can help make our communities a safer and better place to live." 

Cabinet Secretary MacAskill said:

"Serious organised crime does not respect national or jurisdictional boundaries. I was therefore delighted to meet with my counterparts to discuss the issues that concern us all – and to agree how best we tackle those issues. Given our geographical proximity we need to ensure that the routes to and from our countries are safe and not channels for crooks and gangsters.

We all face challenges in the months and years ahead. But there is no doubt that we will be better placed to deal with those challenges if we further develop the excellent relationships that already exist between our respective law enforcement agencies." 

27 September 2010

Note for Editors: 

The meeting was held at the Stephenstown Pond Conference Centre, Dundalk. The venue was chosen as it has an Agnes Burns Cottage and Visitor Centre. Agnes Burns was the elder sister of Robert Burns and lived there until her death in 1834. There is also a monument to Robert Burns in Dundalk. Previously Mr. MacAskill had presented Minister Ahern with a collection of the works of Robert Burns which, he, in turn, presented to the Centre. The venue was chosen in the light of this and the fact that as Scotland's national bard Burns is also a celebrated figure for many in the Ulster-scots and unionist communities in Northern Ireland. The location is an illustration of some of the historic links between Scotland and the island of Ireland.