Northern Ireland

Robinson says PSNI retired officer policy must be transparent

The First Minister has said the PSNI policy of rehiring retired officers should be transparent however he said he understood why it had happened.

An Audit Office report revealed more than 1,000 former RUC officers who took redundancy were later rehired on temporary contracts.

They were employed in civilian roles.

Peter Robinson said the implementation of the Patten reforms of policing had led to a unique situation.

"I think it is important to recognise the context," he said.

"There was such a rush to get rid of the RUC through the Patten proposals that we lost a lot of expertise in the police service and that's why this kind of mess, if you like to call it that, commenced, because of the head-long rush to get rid of the RUC."

About 5,500 RUC officers were paid off under the Patten redundancy scheme; 1,071 of them were later rehired as temporary agency staff, the Audit Office revealed.

The officers received the most generous redundancy scheme in the world.

The spending watchdog said that, at one point, the process was "out of control".

Under the Patten policing reforms, the RUC was replaced in 2001 by the PSNI as part of measures to attract more Catholic recruits and make the police more representative of Northern Ireland's population.

Catholics now make up about 30% of PSNI officers.

The report said the practice of rehiring reached its height in 2007 when more than 800 agency staff were employed, the majority of them former police officers.

It said the way the PSNI had recruited temporary staff had not always met with the high standards of governance and accountability expected of public bodies.

It also revealed that 64 agency staff are paid through limited companies, which can be a means of reducing the amount they pay in tax.

The report also revealed that in 2004, a £44m contract to employ temporary staff was awarded to a local company with no competitive tendering process.

Northern Ireland's Chief Constable Matt Baggott said he would not be commenting on the report at this time.

"I think the appropriate place for me to make my response is at the Policing Board and also at the Public Accounts Committee and that's where I'm going to be making that response but I would also invite people to make sure that they read very thoroughly the entire context of my report," he said.

The Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the integrity of the PSNI had been damaged by the revelation.

"Here we had for quite a number of years, the whole 50:50 concept being put forward to recruit more Catholics into the police service yet it's quite clear that behind the scenes that for whatever reason, people in the highest authority thought it was a good idea to bring back former members of the RUC," he said.

"I think it is quite a damming indictment and it is incumbent now upon the senior echelons of the PSNI to correct this mistake as quickly as possible."

SDLP policing spokesman Conall McDevitt said the practice had "undermined public confidence, especially in the nationalist community".

Jonathan Craig, DUP, who sits on the Policing Board which holds the chief constable to account, said the detail in the Audit Office report should have been revealed to board members.

"I don't understand why the police did not reveal these failings within the system to the board," he said.

"The accounting officer for the PSNI is the chief constable and when he reads through this report and looks at the detailed criticisms in there and the impact this is having on the integrity of the PSNI, he's going to have to reflect upon that and deal with the consequences that fall from that."

Terry Spence, chairman of the Police Federation of Northern Ireland, which represents rank and file officers, said: "There was a collective determination by government and political parties to portray Northern Ireland as being entirely at peace.

"The consequences of this over-eagerness was an under-resourced police service with no choice but to rehire experienced officers."

A PSNI spokesman said: "Importantly, in addition to highlighting some areas for improvement, the report recognises the clear business need for the PSNI to use temporary staff in an uncertain financial climate, the value for money provided and also the necessity for some of those workers to require previous policing experience.

"The report highlights the strength of the arrangements we have in place to manage the use of temporary workers."

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites