Page last updated at 11:54 GMT, Monday, 29 October 2012

Justice Committee

The new director general of the Prison Service (NIPS) said she was disappointed by the number of Catholics applying to be custody officers, on 25 October 2012.

Sue McAllister said 60 of the new recruits, who would replace the traditional prison officer grades, would begin work in the coming weeks.

She said NIPS would be working with the Equality Commission in an attempt to address the matter.

In reply to a question from Sinn Fein's Sean Lynch, Ms McAllister spoke of the need to "raise our game in terms of recruiting more Catholics".

She said they would be working with churches, universities and schools to present the Prison Service as an attractive career.

Ronnie Armour, NIPS director of human resources, said it made the process of cultural change more difficult.

The director general also revealed that there were safety concerns around x-ray machines being considered as a replacement for full-body searches.

Ms McAllister said there was a benchmark that people should only pass through the machine up to 100 times a year.

Other forms of scanning equipment, including "millimetre wave" equipment already being tested, had no safety implications.

At the start of the meeting, the committee discussed the recently-opened Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast.

It is first private clinic to offer abortions in Northern Ireland.

In particular the discussion centred on the role of the attorney general in any potential committee inquiry into the regulation of the clinic.

The attorney general, John Larkin, had written to the committee offering his services in any inquiry including acting as counsel and questioning witnesses on their behalf.

The justice committee chairman Paul Givan said there were ongoing discussions with the attorney's office about how he could assist them.

Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson called for the committee to write to the Minister of Health to ask how the regulation of abortions was dealt with in the Health Service.

The DUP's Jim Wells said the minister, Edwin Poots, had asked for an explanation for every abortion undertaken in Northern Ireland, of which there were 41 to 43 a year.

Mr Wells said Marie Stopes clearly "would not be subject to these rigours".

He said the committee had met Mr Larkin and he had made it clear that "everything he put in the letter was as attorney general" and not as a private citizen.

Sinn Fein's Raymond McCartney said a "very senior member of the Assembly" had stated on a BBC programme that the attorney general had been speaking in a private capacity.

Mr Givan said he was very clear that the attorney would assist the committee.

"The attorney general will be before this committee," he added.

Mr Dickson said the discussion of precisely how Mr Larkin should help was "inevitably coloured by the nature of the correspondence" he had already had with the committee.

"Some members do have concerns about the nature of the correspondence," he said.

Justice committee membership


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