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Justice Minister David Ford: Budget cuts will put public safety under threat

By Deborah McAleese

Public safety is under threat if the Justice Department is forced to make further budget cuts, Justice Minister David Ford has warned.

The PSNI's ability to combat serious harm and the monitoring of offenders within the community could be seriously affected unless additional funding is found urgently, the minister said.

Mr Ford's department is facing a budget shortfall of at least £47m, once further cuts are brought in next month. The shortfall has been blamed on the ongoing dispute between the DUP and Sinn Fein over welfare reform.

Earlier this year it emerged that the Justice Department would face the biggest cut in the June (budget) monitoring round – £22m. Following that Finance Minister Simon Hamilton warned that further cuts would be required next month if a deal on welfare reform was not agreed. "Without urgent additional funding, these in-year cuts will need to be made immediately, and further cuts will obviously increase the risk to public safety, a situation that cannot be supported," Mr Ford warned.

To help meet the budget shortfall the PSNI has been asked to make in-year cuts of seven per cent. The minister said that the PSNI's recruitment plans and community policing, as well as the organisation's ability to combat serious harm and investigate historical crimes, would all be impacted by the cuts.

"There will be particular challenges for the police service, which receives the largest share of the budget. I have met with the PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton to specifically discuss how the cuts could impact on his ability to protect the public," said Mr Ford. The minister also warned that cuts to his budget will mean a reduction in probation officers, which will affect the ability to monitor offenders in the community. In addition it will impact on prisoners who will be forced to spend longer in their cells.

A review will need to be carried out on how the courts system operates and grants to the voluntary and community sector will be reduced, Mr Ford added.

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