In the Media

Peter Robinson threatens to resign over Northern Ireland prison row

PUBLISHED November 15, 2011

First minister says he will force election if prison reforms include removal of royal emblems and titles from region's jails Power sharing in Northern Ireland is facing a new crisis after the first minister, Peter Robinson, warned that he would resign rather than allow the crown and other British symbols to be removed from the local prison service's emblems. Robinson said on Tuesday that he would rather step down and "take this matter to the electorate" than accept reform proposals that include possibly ditching the crown badge. Earlier the justice minister and leader of the non-sectarian centrist Alliance party, David Ford, told the Stormont assembly that there would have to be a change in the culture of the prison service, including how it looks. Ford has embarked on a major reform programme of prisons and the way they operate in Northern Ireland. Responding to proposals to remove the crown badge and symbol, Robinson said: "It will be blocked, it is simply not on the agenda and, indeed, if David Ford ties this to his prison reform as something that is an inescapable part of the prison reform, then he will damage his whole project." Jim Allister, the hardline leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice, said many unionists would object to the removal of the crown or the title "Her Majesty's Prison". Jim Wells, Robinson's colleague in the DUP said such changes would be totally unacceptable. The debate took place during a discussion on Dame Anne Owers's report on prisons in Northern Ireland. The report, ordered by Ford, made 40 recommendations on how the Northern Ireland Prison Service could operate more efficiently. An interim report by the same review team in February said the prison service was dysfunctional, demoralised and ineffective. Although Robinson maintains a good working relationship with his main partners in the power-sharing coalition, Sinn F?in and the deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness, the DUP has constantly clashed with Allister's TUV. Any further erosion of the symbols of Britain in public institutions would be used by Allister's party to paint the devolved administration as a halfway house towards a united Ireland. Nationalists, however, argue that symbolism in key areas of public life such as prisons, the courts system and the police should be politically neutral and not belong to only one community, namely the unionists. Peter Robinson Northern Ireland Prisons and probation Henry McDonald © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds