EXCLUSIVE: STOP AND SEARCH DATA EXPOSED

The use of stop and search powers under terrorism legislation has been a serious bone of contention not just here but across the water and in other western nations given the infringement on human rights.

Here, individuals who may be involved in republican groupings but who have not been convicted of any crime have been pointing the finger at the PSNI alleging ‘political policing’ and ‘harassment’.

So, BtP went about looking into this – albeit with limited information.  We now have obtained a restricted PSNI briefing to the NI Policing Board on stop and searches, despite the PSNI seeking to ensure we didn’t use some of the information contained therein because ‘terrorists could identify where powers are being used most, and evade police’.  We believe its our duty to expose information in the public interest, and for the police and justice system to prove someone is guilty of a crime, so alas.

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The information is a snapshot, ranging from the quarter April-June 2015, however, it is the last report on stop and searches given to the Policing Board.

During that period, under the range of legislative powers the police can use, 6,964 were stopped and searched – 40% of these were aged between 18-25.

The police have a range of powers they can use to stop and search an individual, though our report focusses on just two – the Terrorism Act and the Justice and Security Act.  Here’s what those laws give the police the power to do;

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As you can see, there are an extensive number of powers available to the police.

Of the 6,964 stopped and searched by police officers, only 584, or 8.4% were arrested.  40.8% of these were in the South Policing District.  This is under all available powers.

37 people were stopped and searched under section 43 of the Terrorism Act.  Only 2 were subsequently arrested.

18 people were stopped and searched under section 43A of the same legislation, no arrests were made.

481 people were stopped under section 21 of the Justice and Security Act.  Just 2, or 0.4% of those stopped, were subsequently arrested.

1,087 were stopped under section 24 and section 22 of the Justice and Security Act – by far the widest used legislation.  2% of these were arrested.

As part of the powers as outlined above, vehicles and houses can be searched by police.  Here are the figures for that timeframe.

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The information the PSNI didn’t want us to release was where the powers were used most, and the profile of those most likely to be stopped and searched.

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The PSNI have broken the information in their report down by local government district, so here is a map of the current local government boundaries for information

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From the information in the restricted document, we have been able to pinpoint where stop and searches are more prevalent, and event where you are more likely as a man and a woman, to be subject to stop and searches.

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Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council area

You are more likely to be stopped and searched in this Council area than in any others – and it boasts the highest stop and searches for both males and females in the period.  It is also the number one area for subsequent arrests.

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Derry City and Strabane District Council

This Council area comes second, and it is also second most likely to stop all males and females throughout the region.  This is also the second most prevalent area for subsequent arrests.

The other three of the top five council areas where stop and search powers are used are as follows;

 

We will leave our readers to decipher the relevance of these council areas, and the specific areas of what is deemed to be dissident activity in each of these areas.

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Exclusive: Housing Executive £19m bill for temp housing

In the last five years, the Housing Executive has paid £18.8 million to provide temporary, and in cases emergency accommodation for people across the region.

The shocking figures have been released to BtP in a detailed Freedom of Information response.  We asked the Housing Executive to outline:

“The cost, per district since 2011 of providing emergency accommodation including hotels, bed and breakfasts and other types of accommodation broken down by accommodation type, and the number of individuals including children that have been placed in these since 2011 broken down by month, as well as the number of times in total per month these types of accommodation have been used.”

In total, a whopping £18,823,275.42 has been paid out for temporary accommodation for those presenting as homeless, this does not necessarily mean that the applicants are without accommodation.

This includes properties such as private rented, bed and breakfasts, NIHE hostels, private hostels and hotels.  In 2008 NIHE introduced a Block Booking accommodation model which continues to be used.  Income for this Block Booked accommodation circa 350K per year has not been included in the figures we were given.

By far the highest amount paid out in NI has been to a 70-bed hostel in Belfast’s University Street – Queen’s Quarter – which has been paid an eye-watering £4.7m from 2011 – this is almost comparable to the entire cost of providing temporary accommodation by all Housing Executive offices in Belfast and Derry.  It only accepts referrals from NIHE Homeless Services Unit and Emergency Duty Team.

All this, despite the fact that according to the Minister for Social Development, only 316 people in the entire S Belfast constituency have been accepted by the Housing Executive as ‘homeless’.

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Queen’s Quarter Housing, University Street Belfast

The highest individual NIHE area office spend is Lisburn, at £1.8 million, and the smallest from Cookstown, with a spend of just under £6,000 – though a health warning is attached to these – some offices such as that on the Shankill, have not provided full information and the Housing Executive stress that a new IT system introduced in 2013 is the cause – though other offices can provide full costs from April 2011 until Feb 2016.

The top ten spenders on temporary accommodation are listed below – note that massive difference between Queen’s Quarter – which is one establishment and not a Housing Executive office, and the rest.

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The top ten area spends are outlined below.

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We spent a number of days analysing the data and mapping these to major regions across NI.

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As expected, all of the Belfast offices spend more together than any other area, followed closely by the three Derry offices at almost three million – bigger than all of the areas marked in red.

Lisburn on its own has a significant spend, followed, strangely, by Bangor and Newtownards in the North Down constituency which many would deem to be somewhat affluent in many places.

If we look at how these costs are to be addressed, the building of social housing should be a huge priority.  However, it has been revealed that from the 2010-11 period until the present day, there has been a relatively low number of housing units built right across NI – indeed it fell year-on-year from 2011 until 2013/14.

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Perhaps this should be a huge priority for the incoming Assembly.

Tomorrow, we outline who is being placed in what accommodation, from elderly people to families. Tuesday at 7pm.

Keep up to date with us on facebook.com/beyondthepillarsblog or on twitter at @beyndtheplrs

PFI COSTS: ASTRONOMICAL BURDEN ON TAXPAYERS REVEALED

Private finance initiatives are used by governments to build public projects such as schools or hospitals using private finance, which is then paid back each year via a ‘unitary charge’ which includes part of the cost of the building – just like a bank loan.

Until the full amount is paid back to investors, the private funders manage and own the asset, which is not passed into public ownership until all unitary charges have been paid.

Northern Ireland has 39 PFI projects in total, with six of these having been completed and paid for.

The cost of building all of these assets came to a whopping £1.987 BILLION which is eclipsed when we reveal that the amount of money you the public will pay back in total when all the contracts are completed is an eye-watering £7 BILLION (£7,085,000,000).  Let’s put that in context.

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The entire budget for the Department of Education agreed by the Executive for 2016-2017 is £1.947bn.  The budget of the Department of Health in the same period is £4.88bn.  Our PFI debt is more than these two budgets added together.  Indeed, the original cost of just building all of these projects is largely equal to the Department of Education’s budget – £1.987bn.

Let’s look at these projects, what they originally cost, what they will cost us when the PFI ends, and who oversaw the deal.

The six deals that are complete range from projects started in 1996 (New Renal Dialysis facilities) to a huge upgrade of schools IT infrastructure, the last project of which started in December 2004 by the Dept of Education.  To give an idea of the terms of some of these deals, a project entitled ‘Electronic Libraries for Northern Ireland’ cost £10.2 million to complete, but the public paid £38.37 million in total after the ten year lease.  The renal dialysis project referred to above cost £2.85 million but at the end of the 15 year lease, the public had paid ten times that – £24.97 million.

The largest PFI project in Northern Ireland is referred to as ‘Roads Service DBFO Package 2’ DBFO refers to ‘Design, Build, Finance and Operate’.  The contract was awarded to Amey in 2007 and completed two years later – it cost £250 million to build.  The details can be found here.  When the 30 years contract is completed, it will cost £1.076 billion – four times the original cost to build.

The Department of Education currently has 11 projects under PFI contracts, the largest of any public body.  The total cost to originally build the 11 projects was £245 million – but when the contracts are completed, some with still 20 years to go, the total cost to the public purse is £733 million.

The Department of Employment and Learning come second, with major projects such as the new buildings for Belfast Met, North West Regional College, South East Regional College and South West College.  All of the DEL projects cost £150 million in total, but when the contracts are completed, again some with 20 years still left to run, it will have cost £865 million.

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A number of Health Trusts have undertaken PFI projects, 6 in total.  They cost £335.44 million – but when the contracts are paid off, some decades in the future, the public will have paid £1.015 billion.

Northern Ireland Water is next with three PFI projects to upgrade water treatment works.  These were build at a cost of £144 million, but when the contract ends, we will have paid £1.191 billion. (Details here)

The Department of Regional Development has two massive PFI contracts to upgrade infrastructure, one we have already referred to.  The contracts cost £367 million to build, but when the contract is complete on both, we will have paid £1.638 billion.

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The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure has one project, the building of Lisburn City Library at a cost of £3.7 million.  It will cost the taxpayer £11.6 million when the contract is complete in 2030.

In a particularly hard pill to swallow for many, the sole Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment PFI project was the building of the InvestNI HQ in Belfast at a cost of £25 million.  When the contract on it completes in around 2037, the taxpayer will have paid £129.15 million.

Another very strange project indeed is referred to as ‘LandWeb’ managed by the Department of Finance – this cost nothing to build, the information we have tells us, yet when the PFI contract is completed in the summer of 2019 – it will have cost the taxpayer £91 million. (We have contacted the Department to clarify)

Last but not least is the building of the Laganside Courthouse by the Department of Justice.  It cost £24.48 million to complete, but by the time we are finished paying, it will have cost us £110.47 million.  We do not even own the building at the present time – the contract does not conclude until 2024.

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Large sections of our critical infrastructure – roads, schools, courts – are not in public hands and we are paying private interests because of these deals undertaken by the Executive.

So, who authorised these deals?

Of the 11 Department of Education projects, three were authorised by direct rule ministers in 1997.  However, all of the rest were authorised when Sinn Fein headed the Department.

(SF Education Ministers; Martin McGuinness, Catriona Ruane, incumbent John O’Dowd)

Of the Department of Employment and Learning projects, two were initiated pre-devolution, 2 others were initiated when SDLP Minister Sean Farren was at the helm and the remaining during the period the Assembly was suspended, under Direct Rule ministers.

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(Former SDLP Employment and Learning Minister Sean Farren)

The Northern Ireland Water projects were all started under Direct Rule ministers – in 1995 pre-devolution, and during the suspension in 2004 and 2005 as was the controversial ‘landweb’ project under DFP.

Of the Health Trust projects, all started under pre-devolution Direct Rule ministers, either pre-devolution or during a period of suspension, the same with all three of the NI Water projects and the two Road Service projects.

The UUP’s Michael McGimpsey was the Minister in DCAL when their sole project was initiated.

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(Former DCAL Minister, UUP MLA Michael McGimpsey)

A Direct Rule minister initiated the building of the InvestNI HQ project, much to the relief of our politicians, and the new Laganside Courthouse was initiated long before policing and justice were devolved to the Assembly.

Where are these projects?

Two of the projects are situated in East Belfast, four in West Belfast, 3 in South Belfast.

Two are situated in Foyle, 1 in South Down and 2 in Lagan Valley.

Three in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, one in Mid Ulster and one each in West Tyrone, South Antrim, North Down and East Londonderry.  The remaining eleven cross constituency boundaries and as such are listed as being in ‘more than one’ constituency.

Who owns the assets now?

Seventeen of the projects are currently owned by one shareholder.  For example, the Royal Victoria Hospital Carpark is owned by a company called Car Parking Services Ltd.  They run a number of car parks throughout NI.

The Lisburn City Library is owned by Turkington Holdings, who were at the centre of a controversial debate in the Assembly about Housing Executive contracts.

One of the schools IT projects is wholly owned by the IT giant Hewlett Packard and the strange asset known as ‘landweb’ which seemingly cost nothing to build but will cost taxpayers £91 million is owned by BT.

Laganside Courts is owned by Consul Services Holdings Ltd – and two of the directors of Turkington Holdings Ltd are also directors alongside the owner of the Obel Tower.

In another strange twist, part-nationalised bank Allied Irish actually own 24.5% of Enniskillen Hospital (South West Acute Hospital).  Some Unionists in the county might not be very happy to know the Irish Government owns a quarter of a local hospital.

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The bank HSBC also owns 45% of the equity in Grosvenor Grammar, Belfast Boys Model School, Belfast Model Schools for Girls and Ashfield Girls School, one primary school (Orangefield Primary School), and two nursery schools (Ravenscroft and Glendhu).

PFI costs are a staple of our financial outgoings in the next number of years, even decades, despite the questionable return to the public.

Maze-Long Kesh: Saga Continues

On 15th August 2013, then-First Minister Peter Robinson stopped the development of the Maze-Long Kesh site in its tracks in a letter to DUP members, plunging the relationships at the top of the NI Executive into peril once more.

The 347-acre site of the former Maze Prison was boasted to host a £300m Peace and Reconciliation Centre, and up to 5,000 jobs.

In halting the proposed redevelopment, Mr Robinson said ‘it would be wrong to proceed with the Maze peace centre in the absence of a consensus about how it will operate’.

Since that decision by the DUP leader, any development of the site has been unceremoniously stopped and in October 2013 EU funding for the project was pulled and the £18.1m Stormont funding was divvied out between other projects, seemingly spelling the end of any movement on the site outside Lisburn.

Responding to questions in the Assembly at the time relating to the impasse, the Deputy First Minister commented that ‘No further development will take place until this is satisfactorily resolved’, and Sinn Fein firmly dug its heels in about what they deemed to be a breach of a commitment in the Programme for Government.

However, BtP can now reveal that the Maze-Long Kesh Development Corporation, which was tasked by OFMDFM to regenerate the site, is still up and running.

The Corporation, which does not even have a permanent website, and who issued their last press release in June 2013, had 15 staff prior to the DUP’s decision, and now has just over seven full time equivalent staff.

However, if indeed the DUP blocked any development on the site, and SF stuck to its position that no development would take place until the row was resolved, why have the Corporation been spending well over a million pounds on the site every year since?

In 2013-14, the Corporation spent £1.34 million, plus £363,000 on capital expenditure.  The year after, £1.31 million was spent, with £480,000 spent on capital works.  Spending up until December sat at £899,000, with capital spending at £281k, well on its way to equalling the previous years’ expenditure.

Even if we were to take salaries and running costs into consideration, it is obvious that other major expenses are being incurred at the site, despite the protestations of both the largest parties to the contrary.

SF AND THE HONOURS SYSTEM BLUFF

At each tranche of UK Honours awarded by Queen Elizabeth II, i.e. Birthday and New Year, there is a perpetual argument over those who accept them, their suitability for being granted an honour etc etc.  Social media lights up for weeks over arguments and the controversy shows no sign of abating.

Given our ‘unique’, for lack of a better word, situation with regards to constitutional issues, the awards system here usually attracts a clockwork-like precision for starting arguments.

BtP can reveal now, however, that NI Executive departments also make their own recommendations for UK Honours – including Sinn Fein-run Departments, which may surprise many people given the party’s own views, articulated by many of its senior members, on Irish citizens accepting UK honours.

“British colonialism has brought nothing but pain and misery to the Irish people. It is inconceivable how any Irish person who would describe themselves as nationalist or republican would allow themselves to become embroiled in the British honours system” – John O’Dowd speaking in 2006 (source: http://www.irishtimes.com/news/kelly-rejects-sf-criticism-of-his-obe-1.997441)

We asked for the number of nominations for New Years 2016 honours made by each NI Executive Department, and if nominations from Departments are signed off by Ministers.

The results were surprising.  Departments as listed below made the following number of nominations, we have highlighted Departments with SF Ministers.

DARD      5

DCAL       14

DE           25

DEL         23

DETI       17

DFP         0

DHSSPS 24

DOE       15

DOJ       12

DRD      3

DSD      12

OFMDFM 9

So..the Department with the highest number of nominations was the Department of Education, led by the same John O’Dowd MLA who gave the quote above.  Note that the DUP-led Department of Finance and Personnel made no nominations.

On the sticky question of what role Ministers had in the nominations, and for any avoidance of doubt that SF Ministers would have signed off on the nominations, the second part of the response reads (emphasis added):

“Northern Ireland Ministers are given the opportunity to consider departmental recommendations for Honours. The purpose of consulting local Ministers is to:

• provide them with the opportunity to satisfy themselves that their departmental responsibilities are reasonably represented;

enable them to comment where appropriate on any individual on the list; and

• to provide them with the opportunity to ask that consideration be given to the inclusion of a specific individual known to them who is not currently on the list.”

Clear as crystal.  Another BtP exclusive.

NI ASSEMBLY: MLA’S ‘ROASTED’ BY HEATING COSTS

It is generally accepted that Parliament Buildings, home of the Stormont Assembly, is full of hot air – but how much is it costing the public to heat?

BtP can reveal today the astronomical cost of heating and electricity in the Assembly building.  The eyewatering total cost of providing heat and electricity to the Assembly peaked in January 2013 at £49,590 – well over twice the average salary of a worker in Northern Ireland.  All this despite the Assembly being in recess from 15 December 2012 until 14 January 2013.

To put this cost in perspective, domestic customers of PowerNI faced a 17.8% price hike in May of that year,  and the Housing Condition Survey report from 2011 placed 43% of households in NI in fuel poverty.

The average total cost of heating and electricity from 2007 is highest in the month of January, at £42,220 and lowest in August, when the Assembly does not sit, at £19,516.

The most recent released figure is from December 2014 and show costs of heating is £14,327, electricity is £24,484 – a total of £38,811.  All of this whilst many, mainly elderly residents across the province face the choice between heating or eating.

The natural gas that heats the Assembly has costs of between £492 and £518 per year for the average consumer, begging the question ‘why are our politicians in Stormont allowed to be kept warm and cosy?’