- Stephen Leach, NIO
Stephen is the Director of Criminal Justice Services Division in the Northern Ireland Office.
"I am delighted to join you this morning, and to have been given the opportunity to say a few words about the significance of this ground-breaking initiative.
It is, perhaps, particularly appropriate that PROTECT N&S is being launched here in the historic city of Armagh; an ancient administrative centre and focal point for many major developments in Ireland over the centuries.
In a small way we are adding to that fine historical tradition by creating a little bit of history of our own today. For this trail-blazing project is an important step towards forging closer co-operation between our respective probation services in the interests of our citizens, North and South.
Of course, co-operation between the Probation Board and the Probation and Welfare Service is not new. What is new, is the ambition, scale and focus of this Project. What is particularly welcome is the material support that the European Community has given to the Project; support that has enabled it to move from a potentially attractive concept to a concrete reality.
I must place on record my personal congratulations to both the Probation Board and the Probation and Welfare Service: congratulations on their shared vision and energy in developing the idea of cross-border co-operation in their field; and congratulations on their success in bringing to this Project through to fruition – no mean feat.
The Project is built on a partnership of equals, working to service their respective communities, communities which they are charged to protect and support.
I am not proposing to rehearse the details of the Project, others are better qualified to do this than me. But I will dwell, for a moment, on the choice of its name: PROTECT N&S. For protection is a key goal of our probation services – to protect the public from crime and the fear of crime.
Crime is no respecter of boundaries or borders. They represent no major obstacle to criminal acts, and offenders often exploit borders to cover their tracks and avoid detection. On the island of Ireland, our common border presents our criminal justice bodies with some particular challenges.
It is therefore vital that we forge the links, and develop the joint processes, necessary to ensure that our duty to protect is not compromised by territorial boundaries.
To be effective, it is vital that our probation services are enabled to co-operate effectively in the supervision of offenders, particularly those with a history of violence or sexual predation. Such offenders may well seek to exploit our jurisdictional boundaries to mask their activities.
The public, North and South, has a right to expect that protection from our Criminal Justice systems.
The development of this project must also be seen in the supportive context of the Northern Ireland Criminal Justice Review of 2002. That Review set the framework that enabled such cross-border projects to be initiated and taken forward.
Building practical operational co-operation on justice matters, North and South, is central to the vision of that Review. This imaginative Project falls neatly within that bold vision.
It promises much. The Project will major on sharing experience and good practice, playing to the strengths of each probation body; and providing valuable learning opportunities. It will also facilitate information sharing and provide a mechanism for information searches. I look forward to seeing the practical outcomes of this collaboration.
Before handing over to my counterpart from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform I would like on behalf of the Minister and my Department, to congratulate the officers of both Probation Services on bringing PROTECT N&S to this point.
I also wish to warmly thank the European Community, the project’s funders, without whom today’s launch may not have happened. And Finally, I wish all of those whose task it is to take this project forward success in your important work."