Northern Ireland

Ford reacts to cost of Patten police redundancy bill

David Ford
Image caption David Ford said the scheme was designed to allow police officers to leave with dignity

Justice Minister David Ford has said the Patten redundancy scheme for police officers was designed to allow them to leave with dignity and reasonable payment.

Sinn Fein has criticised the cost of the scheme which is almost £500m. It ends in 10 weeks time.

The scheme was part of the Good Friday Agreement and was aimed at increasing the number of Catholics in the police.

Mr Ford said it was thought necessary at the time to reform the police.

"Patten saw the significant redundancy packages as a major part of changing the nature of the RUC into the PSNI," he said.

"Changing the personnel, introducing the new members by allowing if possible those who had served during the difficult days to leave with dignity and reasonable payment.

"That was the judgement that was made, some people will clearly say that was paid too much, but I think some of the people who are complaining about the scale of the payments are those who are demanding the swiftest action on changing the personnel of the police service, so I don't think they can have it both ways."

In 1998, the former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten was brought in to reform policing in Northern Ireland as part of the Good Friday Agreement.

There are just over 7,000 police officers in Northern Ireland, and almost 30% are now Catholics, compared to just 8% of members of the RUC.

The deal negotiated by Mr Patten amounted to what is regarded as one of the most generous redundancy packages ever offered anywhere in the world.

'Too much'

Figures obtained by BBC Newsline revealed that up to the end of November last year, Patten payments totalled almost £475m.

Sinn Fein policing board member Alex Maskey said the cost of the redundancy packages was "too much".

"I think that the vast amount of money that has been paid in severance was never necessary whenever you are talking about some individuals going away with half a million pounds," he added.

"I think some people will rightly think that is a huge amount of money.

"Families who lost anybody in the conflict would not have remotely thought about getting that type of money."

However, Ulster Unionist policing board member Basil McCrea said the payments were necessary.

"The reason why the terms had to be so generous is because you had a significant number of people who had given a large amount of service and duty to the people of Northern Ireland and they were asked - not entirely to their liking - that some of you will have to stand down as other people have to come in."

During the past 10 years, more than 4,000 regular officers have taken voluntary redundancy, while almost 1,000 members of the full-time reserve left under a compulsory severance scheme.

The cost is expected to rise to more than half a billion pounds by the time the scheme ends in just over two months time.

By then, another 160 regular officers and nearly 270 members of the full-time reserve are due to receive Patten payments.

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