7 July 2008
Committee Media Officer: Rebecca Jones
tel: 020 7219 5693
Press Notice No 17
POLICE SERVICE OF NORTHERN IRELAND FACES CHALLENGES IN ‘POLICING THE PAST’, SAY MPS
The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee today publishes its report Policing and Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland: the Cost of Policing the Past. The report examines whether the cost of 'policing the past' is compromising the ability of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Police Ombudsman's Office to carry out their core functions. It praises the professionalism of the Chief Constable, the Director of the Historical Enquiries Team and the other staff involved in the Historical Enquiries Team and acknowledges the unique and challenging nature of their work.
The report recommends that alternative ways of prioritising Historical Enquiry Team cases are identified in order to target funding more effectively. Significant additional funding would be required if the project is to continue with its current approach and the report calls for a mid-term review to establish the costs and benefits of continuing with the Historical Enquiries Team in its existing form.
The extension of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland’s remit to include historic cases has compromised its ability to investigate more recent complaints against the PSNI and this is having a damaging effect on the efficiency of the Ombudsman’s Office. The report warns that this reduced capability risks damaging public perception of the Office and public confidence in policing. The Committee awaits the conclusions of the Eames/Bradley Group but notes that this issue must be resolved sooner rather than later.
The disclosure of intelligence information to statutory inquiries clearly presents challenges for the police, and for other organisations which are required to provide sensitive information. The provisions in the Inquiries Act 2005 for agreeing and resolving disputes about redactions have yet to be tested. It is crucially important that the workings of the Act are carefully monitored and the Committee will keep a careful eye on how the Act operates in practice.
The high annual cost of inquiries into past events is financially unsustainable and the cost of inquiring into the past is an issue that, at some point, will have to be addressed. The report recommends that the Northern Ireland Office takes further steps to control the costs of statutory inquiries and that inquiries other than those already underway or announced should only be established if agreed by the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The Committee also says that the Northern Ireland Office must continue to ensure that the Police Service of Northern Ireland has a budget sufficient to fulfil its operational remit and to meet its legal obligations with regard to servicing statutory inquiries.
The Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Sir Patrick Cormack, said:
“The Committee was very impressed during our visits to Northern Ireland as part of this inquiry, and also from evidence given to us at Westminster, by the commitment of police service staff. They face unique challenges and operate in exceptional circumstances and we saw genuine determination to provide answers to families bereaved by the Troubles.
“The Police Service of Northern Ireland faces significant demands in terms of its work with all of the different historical investigations and we are concerned about the impact of this in relation to the police service’s primary role in policing the present.
“We very much welcome the work being done by the Consultative Group on the Past, chaired by Lord Eames of Armagh and Mr Denis Bradley, with whom we have had very useful discussions. We await their findings with keen interest.”
NOTES FOR EDITORS
The Historical Enquiries Team project was established within the Police Service of Northern Ireland in 2005 following discussions between the police service and the Northern Ireland Office about dealing with the legacy of the Troubles. The Historical Enquiries Team’s role is to re-examine all deaths attributable to the security situation (the Troubles) between 1968 and 1998.
The Consultative Group on the Past is an independent group established to consult across the community on the best way to deal with the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland. Co-chaired by Lord Robin Eames and Denis Bradley the Group brings together a range of people from across Northern Ireland and is supported by international advisers.
Witnesses, government departments and accredited members of the press who wish to pick up a copy of the report from 7 Millbank should contact the Committee by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call 020 7219 2173. Otherwise, witnesses' copies of the Report will be posted to them. The full text will be available on the Committee’s website on the day of publication.
Committee Membership is as follows: Sir Patrick Cormack MP (Chairman) (Conservative, South Staffordshire), Mr David Anderson MP (Labour, Blaydon), Mr Gregory Campbell MP (Democratic Unionist Party, East Londonderry), Rosie Cooper MP (Labour, West Lancashire), Mr Christopher Fraser MP (Conservative, South West Norfolk), Mr John Grogan MP (Labour, Selby), Mr Stephen Hepburn MP (Labour, Jarrow), Lady Hermon MP (Ulster Unionist Party, North Down), Kate Hoey MP (Labour, Vauxhall), Dr Alasdair McDonnell MP (SDLP, Belfast South), Mr Denis Murphy MP (Labour, Wansbeck), Stephen Pound MP (Labour, Ealing North), Mr Sammy Wilson MP (Democratic Unionist Party, East Antrim)