Robinson raps Irish government over GFA watchdog

General view of Maghaberry prison.

General view of Maghaberry prison.

An Irish government watchdog originally set up to monitor the implemention of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) should cease “interfering” in the internal affairs of Northern Ireland, Gavin Robinson has said.

The East Belfast MP was commenting after the body met in Dublin on Thursday to discuss the conditions and strip searching methods in place at the high-security Maghaberry prison near Lisburn.

He said the committee had “no role in our criminal justice system whatsoever”.

Mr Robinson, the DUP’s justice spokesperson at Westminster, said the GFA had only one line addressing the issue, and added: “Annex B said that there should be a report into criminal justice by 1999. Here we are 17 years later and they’re interfering in our criminal justice system.”

The Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement is made up of 13 TDs and senators, including former Sinn Fein lord mayor of Belfast Senator Niall O Donnghaile.

According to the Irish government website, the committee “plays a pivotal role in informing debate on key areas of mutual interest,” and “works across a number of key areas” including reconciliation, commemorations and the potential impact of Brexit.

Mr Robinson was commenting after the committee heard claims that former justice minister David Ford had failed to enforce a deal to limit strip searching.

One of the deal-brokers, trade unionist Peter Bunting, said the political interference happened because he (Ford) was “probably beholden to the DUP”.

Mr Ford said: “I utterly refute any suggestion I was beholden to the DUP.”

He added: “I certainly had DUP and Sinn Fein support to be elected minister but I made it absolutely clear I was acting on an Alliance agenda, which they accepted before they voted for me.”

Mr Ford said a prisoner deal had been reached six years ago which included an agreement to end threats to prison officers, backed by both the British and Irish governments, however, those threats continued on social media almost continuously thereafter.

Two serving prison officers – David Black and Adrian Ismay – have been murdered since 2010.