Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140-159)



NOTE: Part of this evidence consisted of a presentation which included projected material. Updated and amended versions of the data provided in this way of the evidence session may be found at Appendix 8, p 93. Statistics given in the oral evidence were, in some instances, provisional and may therefore differ slightly from those in Appendix 8.


  140. Let me welcome those of you who have come to give us evidence from NIACRO. We were given five names as to those who were coming, which is why there are five names set out. In a moment, when I invite you to say something, it might be helpful to know whether it is simply a case of Banquo's ghost or whether somebody is going to arrive, or Banquo himself is going to arrive half way through. Let me say what I usually say and then we will come on to the particular technology and the particular circumstances of today's meeting. First of all, you are very welcome and we appreciate your having come at fairly short notice to give evidence, which is extremely helpful to the Committee. We would in any case have given you the opportunity to say anything you might wish to say at the beginning, and I will come back to that in a moment when we talk about the particular circumstances of today. We will endeavour to make our questions follow a logical order. They may come from different parts of the horseshoe. If at any stage you want to gloss any answer you have given, either orally today or in writing afterwards, because you feel we might have misunderstood or there is extra information we ought to have, please do not hesitate to do that. In exactly the same way, if we have got a supplementary question which we recognise we ought to have asked when we see the transcript, then we will reserve the right to put that particular supplementary to you in writing thereafter. I do appreciate that we have probably made things more difficult for you by having to say that what I would call overhead projections are more difficult for a Select Committee to cope with simply because it is not just an exercise in our understanding what you are saying, it is an exercise in our recording as written evidence, which then becomes part of the report, everything that is said to us. While we have never taken evidence in this way before, occasionally other Committees have and it is, therefore, within the discretion of the individual Committee whether it will do so. We are so appreciative of your coming at short notice that we have sought to accommodate the technology. I understand that you would have liked to have given quite a long presentation. As a compromise we have suggested that you should make a presentation for five minutes, including using overhead material, which we will not interrupt, we will not ask any questions arising during that period. Thereafter, in giving answers, if there are illustrations of what you are saying that you want to put on the screen, we are quite content for that to happen. In order to make life tolerable for our shorthand writers we are going to have to be involved in making references to what appears on the screen in a way that will make the evidence traceable thereafter. You can see how this actually slightly complicates the situation for everybody involved on our side. If you are ready to give the initial presentation then please do so. I am going to be tight on time because I do know that we have got nine Members of the Committee here and we have got to get through the questions we want to ask you. Therefore, if you use up too much time at the beginning we may run into the problem of not being able to complete our side. All of that said, a very warm welcome to you. Please do not hesitate to address us. It would be helpful if you would just deal with the question of Banquo's ghost before we start.
  (Ms Lyner) Banquo is very much here. Fergus Cooper is here, he is helping us with the technology, and Jeff Maxwell and Miceal McParland are here with us.

  141. But they are not giving evidence?
  (Ms Lyner) No.

  142. That explains it.
  (Ms Lyner) Thank you very much for the opportunity to be here today. It was not our intention to complicate matters either but, having looked at the evidence that you had received from other groups that you had been speaking to on this topic, we were aware that one of the things you were looking for was some element of statistical information and some focus on what was the quantity, the size of the problem. As you have correctly said, if we do not get to that in terms of the presentation, as we go through some of the discussion we will be able to flit backwards and forwards and make reference to some of the material we have attempted to prepare for you. To move on, it is important for us to explain a little bit about NIACRO itself, the organisation. At this stage we are working from the hand-out here. It is a voluntary organisation with a mission statement which focuses its work to achieve a just, humane and effective criminal justice system in an inclusive and peaceful society. We are an independent, non-profit making voluntary organisation, seeking to work as an agent of social change. I then identify for you the four main aims of the organisation: the care and resettlement of offenders; the prevention of crime; support for the families and dependants of serving prisoners; and to campaign for a just, humane and effective criminal justice system. In this area of work we are hitting at least two, if not three, of those aims in the care and resettlement of offenders, the prevention of crime itself and supporting some of those families who have to move. Against that it is important for you to understand that as an organisation we are working to a number of values and principles. I outline those for you there: justice, equality, care, trust and accountability, social responsibility, quality and non-violence. I suppose in any piece of work we would prove which are the most relevant values for the piece of work that we are doing. In this situation non-violence is obviously a key. We are on record as an organisation that does not see any place for violence in our society and, therefore, that would be the issue we would be flagging up first. Obviously we are also there to care for the individuals. We are driven by humanitarian principles. In terms of the service that we do deliver, we are attempting to deliver that to the best possible quality. Those would be the three values that we would see enshrined in this service.
  (Mr Conway) I want to address the problems of exclusion and a very, very brief overview. The problems of exclusions, punishment shootings and punishment beatings have been evidenced by the RUC since 1972. It has been a problem that has been endemic throughout the history of the last practically 30 years. I want to address the history and establishment of Base 2, which is a project within NIACRO. Base 2 was established in 1990 with the support of a variety of statutory, voluntary and community organisations. There was a perceived need that there were many young people, particularly those in the 16-25 age range, who were being affected by beatings, shootings and exclusions. Base 2 was set up in December 1990. It was funded from a trust source initially. The nature of the problem was such, I think, that statutory organisations at that time were not willing to deal directly with the issue in terms of offering possible solutions, so NIACRO, as a significant voluntary organisation in Northern Ireland, hosted the Base 2 project. In essence that is the history of how Base 2 started. We go on to the operational guidelines.

  143. You have got another minute but do not feel you need to.
  (Mr Conway) At the very beginning, because of the nature of the work and the clients we were dealing with, and also given the environmental and political culture at the time, it became evident very quickly that there was a need to establish very solid operational guidelines. These guidelines were rooted in principles of non-violence and human rights. There was to be undertaken a comprehensive risk assessment in each individual case. It was very clear that the project had to operate within the legal framework, that it could not operate outside of that. Key to the whole process was ensuring that the principle of confidentiality was adhered to, with the exception of danger to others, and that relates particularly to people who might have informed staff that they have committed crimes against children or young people. The service was to be non-judgmental. Maintenance in the community was a preferred option. There should be an acknowledgement and account taken of the negative effects of cultural dislocation. If somebody had to be excluded, if you like, the ideal response or host organisation, or host system, would be able to offer adequate finance to support the individual or the family's housing accommodation, advice being given in an ongoing way. Education, training and employment opportunities should be made available. There should be a welcoming social network and there should be maintenance of family or partnership ties. If you like, that is the essence of the ideal response to those who have to leave the jurisdiction of Northern Ireland.

  144. I think, if I may say so, you just slopped over at the end but I interrupted you as well. I think that was admirably done. The first ground clearing question I am going to ask is one which you have effectively already answered but I will still ask it, not least because with slightly more time you may want to expand your answer. As I understand it, you have been involved since 1990?
  (Ms Lyner) Yes.

  145. When the decision was taken for you to become involved, was that by invitation or was that by a decision on your part that it was a sensible role for you to undertake?
  (Mr Conway) It was a decision that was taken by NIACRO to host the Base 2 project. Essentially the agencies in London had become aware that there were young people coming over from Northern Ireland who had been driven out so, if you like, that sector came to Northern Ireland and said "this is a problem, we have resources to fund that" and essentially Base 2 was formed. A station was needed to house it, if you like, and NIACRO offered to house the project.

  146. I may be going over ground which again is elsewhere but it is helpful to have it on the record in terms of this particular examination. When you say people in London, I infer from that you are talking about private sector/charitable people?
  (Mr Conway) Yes.

  147. It was not, in fact, anything official?
  (Mr Conway) No.
  (Ms Lyner) No, but if I could just add to that. I think it is important to recognise that when that approach was made, the approach was made to an inter-agency grouping of statutory and voluntary organisations concerned also in Northern Ireland with the fact that young people were living under that form of threat and either moving around within Northern Ireland or moving from Northern Ireland to other places. There was a place for that concern that was coming from London to be received within the context of an inter-agency statutory, voluntary response. We, as NIACRO, were part of that, which was how the offer to host was made and came to be realised.

  148. Did that emerge out of a debate within the inter-agency body or was it an offer that you made direct to the interested party? In other words, was there a debate in Northern Ireland as to who was best qualified to do it?
  (Mr Conway) There was. The actual name of the body was called Interact which was a composition of probation, social services, community and voluntary sector representation. The issue had been discussed within that body and was open to receiving an input from the London side.

  149. Has the cost of running it changed significantly over the period? I am talking about Base 2.
  (Ms Lyner) No.
  (Mr Conway) Average.
  (Ms Lyner) In the early years we were very restricted by the fact that it was all charitable monies. After a relatively short period we were attracting money through routes of Making Belfast Work and other appropriate channels. While the costs may have fluctuated by £10,000 from the highest to the lowest, they have maintained themselves at fairly much the same level throughout its history.

  150. Remind us of the bracket.
  (Ms Lyner) We are talking about somewhere between £65,000 and £80,000 a year, the operation which we are involved with.
  (Mr Conway) It has to be acknowledged that there was a lead-in period of two to three years. The first year of the project would have essentially funded a salary and then the person, who happened to be myself at that time, had to fund-raise service elements.

  151. That sounds familiar from other projects.
  (Mr Conway) It was a gradual increase in terms of funding. The platform currently is around the order of between £60,000 and £80,000 a year.

  152. Do I infer that in so far as there has been a change in the mix between charitable and statutory funding of one sort or another that that has been reasonably organic, in other words it has not oscillated sharply between the two components?
  (Ms Lyner) It is something that has fluctuated throughout the years. There was a period that was trust funding at the beginning. There was then a period of three years when there was Making Belfast Work money, there was a year when there was money from the Probation Board and a period when we were looking for trust money. We are back on a more even keel at this stage with the element of statutory and trust funding. It has oscillated through a range of different opportunities but NIACRO has always been committed to securing the resources to be able to provide the level of service that was coming to our door.

  153. And you are now in a state of approximate equilibrium?
  (Ms Lyner) For this year.

Mr Thompson

  154. Good afternoon. Continuing on the Base 2 project, how many staff does NIACRO have working on the Base 2 project and, of these, how many are full-time fieldworkers?
  (Ms Lyner) There are three to four staff connected with the project and two of those staff would be fieldworkers.

  155. Two out of between three and four?
  (Ms Lyner) Yes.

  156. How does NIACRO go about assisting those intimidated? What, if any, operational guidelines are issued to those who work in this area?
  (Mr Conway) If I can address in more detail the operational guidelines that I hope you have in front of you.


  157. We have got copies.
  (Mr Conway) It will be page two, the second overhead. First of all, in terms of the broad principles, Base 2 operates adhering to principles of non-violence and human rights. That is the bottom line in terms of the running of the project. It is also non-judgmental, it does not make a judgment in terms of the individual. It seeks to provide a service that essentially will ensure that the individual who may be under threat does not actually sustain injury, exclusion or worse. Those are the broad aims. There are three phases to how individuals are actually dealt with. The first one, or phase one, is the immediate referral, where somebody actually comes to the project. We would regard it as our job to verify, to assist the individual to make an informed choice. We do not say to people "here is what you should do". Ultimately the individual, himself or herself, decide what they will do. We would try and inform them as much as possible in terms of the information that we gather, that "here is what is going on in your immediate environment", but ultimately it is up to that person to make the choice. In terms of phase two, we would be carrying out in effect a risk assessment in terms of the context, the nature of the threat and the potential restrictions, if somebody had, for example, bail restrictions. In many of these cases the individuals have court restrictions or they have court appearances pending, so we would not knowingly remove somebody from this jurisdiction. Until all other avenues or options were exhausted we would not relocate somebody outside the jurisdiction without ensuring that matters such as outstanding court appearances, bench warrants, bail restrictions, were addressed formally. We are very, very clear. That goes back to the principle of operating within the legal framework, that we will not ship people off and spirit them away from due process. We are very clear about maintaining individuals in the community as long as they are safe. It was very clear, particularly during the early part of the project's life, that individuals who rushed off or who were exiled felt they had to leave the jurisdiction of Northern Ireland to go, for example, to London, and that decision was taken in the space of 24 hours. Very often individuals who were faced with the threat were given a time frame to leave the jurisdiction. We regarded it as important to slow that individual or family down because many individuals cannot survive outside their own, if you like, cultural environment. One of the concerns that was expressed by the initial trust funders was that young people were coming over to London—London was the most often quoted example—ill prepared with no support systems and they were likely to do what they were good at doing in, say, Belfast, which could be stealing cars or burglaries or committing further crime. By not carrying out a risk assessment we, or anybody who just puts somebody on a boat or a plane or a bus, were probably adding to that individual's problem. We regard it as very important to try to slow the process down and, if need be, get people away from the immediate source of the threat, or the area of the threat, and make a considered and informed judgment on the basis of as much information as we can gather both about the threat and what they actually face in terms of the threat and their ability to survive in what is, in effect, for them another culture.
  (Ms Lyner) If I can just add a couple of points to that. The first question was to do with quality. I would like just to assure you that in terms of the staff who are working in that, we have a set of staff policies and guidelines that the staff are working to. A pro forma takes each case through a set of questions to ensure the age of the individual, whether there are children involved in the process, what types of offences they have been through in the past, whether there are issues of sexual offending and whether we need to be alerting ourselves to other procedures if they need to be called into place. Those are procedures that have been operating in the project throughout its lifetime.

Mr Thompson

  158. In assessing whether somebody can stay in the community, do you have any communication with the paramilitary organisations that may be involved in attacking them?
  (Ms Lyner) How we organise the verification is to talk to contacts we have within the community, not directly with organisations but people who have contacts, and those lines of communication come back to us. Over the period of years that we have been operating the project we have not got back misinformation from that process. In terms of understanding the discreet and confidential service that we have been trying to operate, it has been important that we do it in a process that has us at some distance from the range of players. That is also important in terms of individual and staff protection.

  Mr Thompson: Thank you very much.

Mr Hunter

  159. Can I draw attention to the second display on page three that you handed to us. I want to raise a number of questions about statistical information. I was going to ask you about referrals. You have given us that in tabulated form and obviously the most striking feature is the very significant increase in the number of referrals, which has more than doubled, perhaps nearly tripled, in the space of six years. The low number of referrals pre-1994, to some extent does that reflect the low level of funding which then limited your operation?
  (Ms Lyner) I think there are a number of things and statistics are useful to tell the story of what is behind them. Certainly we recognise that the project was established late in 1990 and had a gestation period of a couple of years, talking about a build up of networks, of contacts for people. That would be one element, not necessarily the level of funding but the level of being known about, being seen as a resource for individuals to be able to make use of that. There are other things as we look towards this year, for example, in terms of the activity on the Shankill and the Loyalist feuds that affect numbers as well. Particularly it is the fact that our practice and people's understanding of what we can offer and how we can offer it has grown over the years.

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