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Summary

  1. Justice Committee questions prison bosses over critical report of response to inmate who blinded himself
  2. Trade union representatives brief the Health Committee on overview of issues facing their members

Live Reporting

By Robin Sheeran and Iain McDowell

All times stated are UK

  1. That's all, folks!

    Thanks for joining us this week for our Stormont Live coverage from up here on the hill.

    Parliament Buildings at Stormont

    We'll be back on Monday with a live stream and text of the plenary session from the assembly chamber.

    But for now, we're away for a dander round the grounds of the estate as the sun shines. Enjoy your weekend!

  2. Full steam ahead for police boats in hot pursuit

    Matters move on to a legislative consent motion on extending maritime enforcement powers relating to hot pursuit cases beyond the region's territorial waters to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

    This has been running for a few weeks after confusion and misunderstandings between police, the Department of Justice and the committee, and Mr Frew describes it as something of a "saga".

    A police boat

    New boats were purchased by the PSNI last year that are capable of going beyond the 12-miles stretch of Northern Ireland waters, correspondence to the committee confirms.

    The force had previously declined the powers, saying it did not have the marine capability for the powers to be relevant to it.

    The committee agrees to recommend the extension of the powers.

    But Mr Sheehan laughs: "I'd love to know how the cops forgot they had the capability!"

  3. 'Prison drugs use reflects societal issue'

    Committee chair Paul Frew asks about the use of amnesties in prisons to deal with the problem of smuggled drugs.

    Ms McAllister says the service had an amnesty recently "primarily because we knew we had a bad batch" and it was putting users in danger.

    A gloved hand holding tablets

    She says that drug use "is an issue that reflects what is going on in society".

    And with that, the evidence session comes to an end.

  4. 'Tensions exist between prisons and health trusts'

    Sinn Féin's Pat Sheehan asks the prison officials if there has been "tension" in the relationship between the prison services and the health trusts.

    Ms McAllister acknowledges that it has been "challenging" and adds: "Sometimes there have been tensions about priorities."

    Pat Sheehan

    Mr Sheehan goes on to the hospital treatment of Mr Lynch, saying he was treated less favourably because he was a prisoner, and asks if the prisons are doing enough to challenging cases in which that happens.

    "I don't believe it's systemic but one case is one too many," the director general says.

    The committee agrees to call officials from the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, which came in for criticism in the ombudsman's report.

  5. 'Self-harm incidents are pretty constant'

    There were 613 incidents of prisoners self-harming last year and the total this year so far is 404, Ms McAllister says.

    A prison officer on a prison wing

    This month, about 450 inmates in Maghaberry Prison have a history of self-harm, and acts of self-harm are "pretty constant", according to prison official Phil Wragg.

    Ms McAllister adds staff see it so often that they become "less shocked by it", but support is given to them to "stop them becoming brutalised" by what they witness.

  6. Minister defends handling of Nama portfolio

    Away from Stormont, the Irish finance minister has defended his handling and lack of involvement in the sale by Nama of its Northern Ireland property portfolio.

    Michael Noonan

    Speaking at the Dáil's Public Accounts Committee, Michael Noonan said Nama was set up to be independent of government.

    He said it was not his job to tell Nama to break up its portfolio into smaller lots for sale.

  7. 'Sickness a challenge for our staffing levels'

    Ms McAllister says she does believe Northern Ireland's prisons are adequately staffed, in response to a question from the UUP's Doug Beattie.

    But the challenge is that "our sickness is as high as it is".

    "The sick is coming down as a result of strong leadership," she adds.

  8. 'Staff response was negligent and inhumane'

    Mr Kearney says the prison staff's response during Mr Lynch's ordeal could only be described as "negligence".

    "There were plenty of staff available yet the staff were entirely negligent in relation to adequately responding to the situation in hand," he says.

    Ms McAllister insists she believes what happened was "beyond the capabilities of prison staff of any grades".

    Declan Kearney

    But the Sinn Féin MLA rejects her assessment.

    "I would find that plausable if then, when the ambulance had arrived, staff would have actually showed the duty of care to Sean Lynch to accompany him to the ambulance, and they didn't.

    "You'll not convince me otherwise - that was absolute negligence, that was inhumane."

  9. 'Difficult to get to root of problems with internal probes'

    Every prisoner deserves to be treated with respect, Sinn Féin's Declan Kearney says, and what happened to Mr Lynch should not have occurred in any prison "on these islands".

    He asks what was defective in the prison's internal investigation.

    Maghaberry Prison

    Ms McAllister said it "simply didn't ask the difficult questions" and lacked depth.

    "Culturally, as a small service, it is sometimes more difficult to get to the root of things via an internal investigation than it is through independent scrutiny," she admits.

  10. 'CCTV's audio broken on night of incident'

    The ombudsman said earlier that there was no audio to accompany the CCTV footage from Mr Lynch's cell, and the committee's deputy chair Pam Cameron (below) asks why that was the case.

    Ms McAllister says the video system in place in Quoile House - the prison building where Mr Lynch was being housed - does record sound and is the only one of its kind in the whole of the prison service.

    Pam Cameron

    The problem, was, however, that it did not work on the day of the incident.

    "It was a failure of the system that it didn't work - it was broken," she adds.

  11. 'Lack of jail hospital makes prisoner care hard'

    The closure of the prison's hospital "makes it very difficult" to look after" some prisoners with "complex needs", Ms McAllister says.

    Those include mental health issues, social problems and physical disabilities, she adds.

    Brian McCaughey

    Her colleague Brian McCaughey says an on-site facility would provide a "more therapeutic" environment for inmates to be appropriately seen and diagnosed by medical professionals.  

  12. 'Too many recommendations haven't been acted on'

    Prison procedures were "never designed" for situations as serious as Mr Lynch's self-harm, Ms McAllister says.

    She says the service has not accepted all of the ombudsman's recommendations, but others have been implemented.

    "We physically haven't got the resources" to put all the recommendations into practice, she adds. - "it's in the thousands".

    The director general acknowledges that there have been "too many repeat recommendations" that the service "hasn't taken forward".

  13. 'Incident resulted from poor communication'

    Ms McAllister says the poor response to Mr Lynch's incident was "an issue of process and communication".

    The officials says staff on the landings of the prison wing did not have the benefit of seeing what was happening inside Mr Lynch's cell.

    A prison officer opens a cell door

    Also, the officer watching the camera footage would have had two other inmates to monitor.

    The director general says the prison service would like to see the installation of gates rather than solid doors on cells - that would allow officers to engage with prisoners rather than just observe them through a hatch.

  14. 'Tragic case beyond what staff expected to deal with'

    Northern Ireland Prison Service director general Sue McAllister opens by saying her "thoughts are with Mr Lynch and his family".

    Sue McAllister

    She tells the committee that she has asked them if they would like to meet to discuss the case before she leaves her the role at the end of this month.

    She says this "tragic case" is "beyond anything [prison staff] could have been asked to deal with".

  15. 'Someone needs to take responsibility'

    Mr McGonigle says the one headline recommendation from his report is that in cases of inmates with serious mental health issues, "somebody needs to grip that situation" and make sure they get "prompt and effective treatment".

    Barbed-wire fences at Maghaberry Prison

    The brings to an end his evidence session and Northern Ireland Prison Service officials now appear before the committee to respond to the ombudsman's findings.

  16. 'Staffing levels in NI better than UK jails'

    Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie says he has got the sense "that the infrastructure and the process aren't there" in Maghaberry to deal with incidents like the one being discussed today.

    He asks whether staffing levels, especially at night, are sufficient in Northern Ireland's prisons.

    A prison officer inside a jail

    The ombudsman says "we still have better staffing levels" than prisons in the rest of the UK and in the Republic of Ireland.

    He adds that while a high level of training is important for staff, selecting people with the right "character" for the job is also crucial.

  17. 'Public perceive brutality in these cases'

    Sinn Féin's Declan Kearney says core principles of "respect, dignity, duty of care and sensibility of humanity" were given no regard in Mr Lynch's case.

    He asks to what extent did the incident happen as a result of "cultural, or attitudinal approaches" towards Mr Lynch and other prisoners.

    Inside a prison wing

    Mr McGonigle says he does not believe anyone set out to allow Mr Lynch to injure himself.

    He adds: "I don't believe brutality or indifference were intended, but that becomes the public perception of it."

  18. Six under investigation in NCA's Nama probe

    BBC NI Home Affairs correspondent tweets...

    Vincent Kearney

    BBC News NI Home Affairs Correspondent

    View more on twitter
  19. 'Nobody took ownership of prisoner's problem'

    The content of the report is "utterly repulsive" and "making me feel physically sick", the DUP's Pam Cameron says.

    "I take no pleasure in it but it has to be spelled out," the ombudsman replies.

    Maghaberry Prison

    She asks about contact between emergency control room staff and prisoners on the wing, and Mr McGonigle says "nobody took ownership" of the case.

    He also says there are "not enough" mental healthcare staff in prisons but that is "not unique to this particular discipline".

  20. 'Leaving Lynch alone hard to comprehend'

    The "bit that is so difficult to comprehend" is that prison staff left Mr Lynch alone in his cell after they had initially entered it when he was self-harming, Mr McGonigle says.

    He adds that that is arguably worse that not entering the cell at all.