Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

Session 2004-2005

10 March 2005




The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee today published the report of its inquiry into the Functions of the Northern Ireland Policing Board. The Board was set up in 2001 to secure the maintenance, efficiency and effectiveness of the police in Northern Ireland.

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

“In its first four years, the Northern Ireland Policing Board has made satisfactory progress in establishing its oversight role for the Police Service of Northern Ireland. It has done this despite difficult political circumstances, and Sir Desmond Rea, the Chairman of the Board, and his staff, are to be congratulated on their achievements. The Board is to be commended in particular for developing a generally co-operative and constructive relationship with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

Mr Mates continued:

“However, our work has identified a number of improvements which must be made by the Board if the success achieved so far is not to be undermined:

• It is vital that the relationship between the Board and the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland is fully functional at all times. The Board must ensure, with the Police Ombudsman, that a mutually acceptable pattern of contacts is established. We expect to see appropriate action taken on this point without delay.

• To ensure the credibility of the Board’s police oversight function, the level of Board members’ expertise in police policy and practice needs to be high. We look to the Board to ensure that this is the case at all times; and to the PSNI to assist the it in keeping members fully up to date.

• There have been a small number of occasions in which sensitive material discussed by the police in private with the Board has been divulged. We are clear that this behaviour is a serious threat to the reputation and integrity of the Board as a whole, and risks undermining the Board’s good work in establishing confidence with the PSNI and respect from the people of Northern Ireland. It is imperative that there should be no repetition of this behaviour, and we look to each member of the Board, and the staff, to maintain the highest professional standards at all times. The Secretary of State should consider whether to make the maintenance of confidentiality a formal condition of appointment to the Board.

• It is important to the oversight function of the Board that its committee structure is capable of tracking the diverse range of police activities. Following the PSNI’s review of its corporate structure, the Board needs to consider its own committee structure to ensure that it is appropriately targeted on the full range of police functions.

• It is unclear at present how complaints against the Policing Board are to be taken forward because there is currently no formal right of appeal set out in the Board’s policy. We are calling on the Board and the government to bring forward appropriate proposals with out delay.

• Future annual reports of the Board require to reflect their importance as primary  means of communication with the public. The reports must be fully transparent, comprehensive, and straightforward to read. There is considerable room for improvement at present, and we expect to see future reports written to a higher standard.

• We were disappointed that the budgeting and training arrangements put in place by the Board for District Policing Partnerships were not as smooth as they might have been; and that the cost of appointing independent DPP members was high. We trust that the Board will fine tune future budgeting rounds; deliver fully satisfactory training to DPPs; and ensure that future appointments of independent DPP members are delivered less expensively.                 

Mr Mates concluded:

“This is the first occasion on which we have scrutinised the Northern Ireland Policing Board.  It is an important part of the new, post-Patton policing arrangements in Northern Ireland and has a taxing set of responsibilities.  The Board takes these seriously, and has indicated a willingness to seek improvements in its own operations which is welcome. The recommendations for improvement set out in our report should be made without delay, and we are confident that the Board and the government will carry these forward.  The confidence of the public in its police force rests, in large measure, on the Board discharging its functions properly. We expect the Board to ensure that the confidence of the public continues to be enhanced.”