Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

Session 2004-2005

23 February 2005




THE FUNCTIONS OF THE POLICE OMBUDSMAN FOR NORTHERN IRELAND

CHAIRMAN'S COMMENTS ON PUBLICATION OF THE REPORT

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee today published the report of its inquiry into the Functions of the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.  The Ombudsman was set up in 2000 to investigate complaints against police officers in Northern Ireland.

Mr Michael Mates MP, the Chairman of the Committee, said:

"Setting up the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland has been a major task.  We have been impressed by the dedication hard work and leadership shown by Mrs Nuala O'Loan and her staff in establishing a credible, independent police complaints service in Northern Ireland in a relatively brief period. Surveys have shown that the Office has the confidence of a substantial majority of the public, and this is a very creditable performance.

Mr Mates continued:

"This broad success does not disguise the improvements that will be required if the service provided by the Office is to develop further.  For example, the computer systems which are crucial in sustaining the efficient despatch of business, and the annual reports which the public and others turn to for a clear and comprehensive picture of the work of the Office, both need to be improved. We were pleased to learn that work is advanced to remedy the former; and we hope that the Office will work hard to improve the future presentation of its annual reports.

"The relationship between the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and the Office of the Police Ombudsman is crucial to the success of the new policing arrangements in Northern Ireland. While we were pleased to see that the top management of the PSNI, led by Hugh Orde, the Chief Constable, was working well with the Ombudsman, Mrs O'Loan's own survey work has shown that the relationship of her Office with 'rank and file' police officers requires more work if satisfactory levels of confidence on the part of police officers is to be achieved. We are fully aware of the difficulties of managing the relationship between the police and those who investigate complaints against them. We are confident that the Police Ombudsman, and the Police Federation for Northern Ireland and the Superintendents Association of Northern Ireland, are working hard to improve the level of trust which police officers have in the Office, and that they understand fully their collective responsibility to serve the public by cooperating well at all levels. We expect to see significant improvements in this area when we look again at the work of the Office.

Mr Mates concluded:

"The Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland is a key part of the new policing arrangements in Northern Ireland.  The Ombudsman and her staff carry a great responsibility for helping the police to improve the service given to the public in Northern Ireland and sustaining public confidence in the new policing arrangements.   We have found the willingness of Mrs O'Loan and her staff to seek improvements in all aspects of the work of the Office refreshing.  We hope that, when we next look at the work of the Office, we shall find that the solid achievements have laid the ground work for further improvements."