The Presbyterian Church has called on the justice minister to provide greater funding for prison chaplains in Northern Ireland.
The issue was raised as the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI), Rt Rev Dr William Henry, visited the new £54m Davis House facility at Maghaberry.
He praised the Prison Service for their focus on rehabilitation while his colleague Rev David Bruce, the PCI’s Secretary to the Council for Mission in Ireland, called on Naomi Long to increase resources for chaplains.
Speaking after the visit, Rev Bruce commented: “All the churches receive funding towards the provision of chaplains, but like many public services the cuts that have been imposed in recent years have severely restricted what can be done.
“With the restoration of devolution and the appointment of a Minister for Justice, we hope that a more realistic enhanced funding provision will be put in place to secure the service in the future.”
The Moderator was invited to tour Northern Ireland’s only high-security prison by its co-ordinating chaplain, Rev Graham Stockdale.
Dr Henry was briefed on the new facility and progress at Maghaberry by prison governor David Kennedy, Director General of the Northern Ireland Prison Service.
The moderator said he gained “a terrific insight into a thoroughly modern prison”.
“It is good to see what has been done in recent years and hear that inspectors report that the prison is delivering some of the best outcomes that they have seen.
“I was also pleased to see, and hear, the value that the Prison Service places on chaplaincy and the role of the chaplains from across the denominations.”
Dr Henry became minister of Maze Presbyterian Church in 1997, and said he was very much aware of the stress and pressure that prison officers and their families were under.
“Then as now, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to those who serve and work in our prisons, often working in challenging circumstances.”
The PCI ministers to prisoners and staff across all of Northern Ireland’s various institutions, including Magilligan and Hydebank Wood College, which includes the Northern Ireland Women’s Prison.
Ministers also work with young people at Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre in Bangor and visit on request to prisons in the Republic of Ireland.