16/11/2011

Prison Symbols 'Resignation Threat' Recedes

A growing crisis over the possible removal of the British Crown and other symbols from the North's Prison Service seems to have subsided overnight with a clarification from the Stormont Justice Minister David Ford that "no decisions have been taken in relation to symbols in prisons".

He spoke out after the DUP Leader took a firm line on the matter and even threatened to bring on an election by resigning his Executive First Minister position if the Alliance Leader were to go ahead with the proposal.

David Ford said: "As everyone will be aware, we are currently engaged in an extensive programme of reform within the prison system, but no decisions have been taken in relation to symbols, and there are currently no proposals on my desk in relation to symbols.

"I have had discussions with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister about Prison Reform.

"It is clear from those discussions that there are significant and controversial aspects of the reform programme that should be considered by the Executive.

"I agree, indeed some aspects of the programme require a cross-departmental approach and I have already written to colleagues about that.

"At the same time there are aspects of the reform programme that are my responsibility to consider, just as there will be aspects for Prison Service management to consider," he said.

Also commenting, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) Leader Tom Elliott responded to Peter Robinson's threat to resign if the Justice Minister David Ford attempts to change the emblems of the Northern Ireland Prison Service.

"People could be forgiven for being somewhat confused at [the] threat to resign at David Ford's shameful proposals to change the name and cap badge of the Northern Ireland Prison Service as part of Justice reforms.

"We will not be supporting David Ford's proposal for these changes under any circumstances.

"It is an insult to the bravery and suffering of the men and women of the Northern Ireland Prison Service who have faced threats of violence and actual violence for over 40 years as they worked to ensure that those who tried to destroy normal life here were properly locked up," he said, adding that the most pertinent fact is that it was Mr Robinson and the DUP - with Sinn Fein assistance - who appointed David Ford to the position of Justice Minister in April 2010.

"To compound matters, Mr Robinson and the DUP - once again with Sinn Fein support - then re-appointed Mr Ford following the Assembly Election in May of this year," the UUP Leader continued.

"It really is a bit much for Mr Robinson to threaten to resign now that Mr Ford has decided to plough his own furrow regarding the name and cap badge of the Northern Prison Service.

"People will recall that a decade or so ago another First Minister - an Ulster Unionist one - was prompted to resign on occasion.

"Indeed the DUP claimed that such actions merely served to highlight instability in the institutions, instability which the DUP claimed had been banished forever following the St Andrews and Hillsborough Agreements.

"If Mr Robinson has a problem with what David Ford is doing he should have a word with the man who appointed him," he concluded.

There has been no further comment from the First Minister, although a party colleague, has welcomed the clarification issued last night by David Ford.

The DUP's Justice Committee Chairman Paul Givan said: "I welcome the clarification by David Ford that any change to the Northern Ireland Prison Service symbols or the title used by our prisons would be a matter for the Executive.

"As the largest Party in the Executive, the DUP would veto any attempt to remove Her Majesty from our Prisons' titles."

(BMcC)

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