Page last updated at 17:00 GMT, Thursday, 17 November 2011

Justice Committee

Justice Minister David Ford said he regretted any offence caused by his recent comments regarding prison service emblems, on 17 November 2011.

Mr Ford told the assembly on 14 November 2011 that the Prison Service would have to consider changes to emblems if it was serious about fundamental reform.

First minister Peter Robinson subsequently threatened to resign if the crown was dropped from the service's emblems.

The matter was raised again when David Ford appeared before the justice committee to give them a briefing on Dame Anne Owers' report on the review of prisons.

Committee chair Paul Givan of the DUP acknowledged Mr Ford's statement that no decisions had been made about emblems and that, as a "significant and controversial" matter, it should be dealt with by the executive.

Mr Givan said he had spoken to a number of past and present prison officers who were offended by Mr Ford's comments.

The minister replied that he stood by his comments but his "phraseology was perhaps clumsy".

He said it was not his intention to cause offence and he regretted any offence caused.

Mr Givan said that changes to emblems were "not even worth considering".

He also asked about a roll of honour of murdered prison officers, which he said had been removed from the Prison Service website.

The minister explained that the site had been hacked into and "additional material" had been added to the roll of honour.

The site had been taken down until it could be made secure, and that the roll of honour would be restored.

Alban Maginness of the SDLP criticised the position adopted by the committee chair, Paul Givan.

"I don't think it's appropriate for you to be working as a spokesperson for the DUP on this issue," he commented.

Turning to the Owers report itself, Mr Ford said it reinforced the need for radical reform across the prison service.

The minister was accompanied by the director-general of the Prison Service, Colin McConnell.

Mr McConnell said progress was being made on prison reform

"Fundamental and lasting change of this scale will take four years," he added.

Sinn Fein's Raymond McCartney was concerned about the transformation process becoming held up by a process he described as "treading in treacle".

Regarding the referring of controversial matters to the executive, Mr McCartney said "the definition of controversial will always be controversial".

He added that if everything were made controversial they would make no progress.

The committee was briefed by department of justice officials on sex offender notification requirements.

Justice committee membership

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