Simon Hamilton calls for transparency over PSNI budget pressures

Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton was addressing the Stormont finance committee

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The finance minister has called for more transparency around the pressures facing the policing budget.

Simon Hamilton was addressing the Stormont finance committee.

He said, if he was going to help the Department of Justice address problems, he needed some certainty "the pressures are real and the figures are robust."

Earlier this month Chief Constable George Hamilton said the PSNI's ability to do its job would suffer if its budget faced planned £80m cuts.

The finance minister said that at a meeting last February with Justice Minister David Ford and the then chief constable Matt Baggott, it was agreed his officials would engage with counterparts from the justice department and the PSNI.

'Real and robust'

But while there had been some subsequent high level discussions they were was not at the level he would like to have seen.

He told Stormont's finance committee: "When you don't get that high level of engagement then it's very hard for me to make an argument to executive colleagues that the pressures that are in the public domain and are talked about privately, or whatever, are as real and robust as you would believe."

The minister said he would like to see the ring-fencing of the justice department's budget stop at the end of the year as planned - though that was a decision for the executive.

"There's been a lot of money that has gone into the justice budget in the last number of years, you know quite a lot - a huge amount has gone in - nothing has really come out," he added.

"There isn't the degree of transparency around some of the pressures that I would need if I was going to make a case for any degree of help or support I could do for the department."

George Hamilton Earlier this month, George Hamilton said proposed cuts represent "a huge sum of money"

Mr Hamilton claimed that the problem was a hangover from the time before policing and justice was devolved.

"I think we have had some difficulties in trying to change that culture that was there beforehand. I think that's as much at the heart of the problem as anything else," he added.

He also said while there was a good interaction between his department and the justice department, interaction with the police needed to improve.

Sinn Féin Policing Board Member, Gerry Kelly, called on the DUP leadership to "use its influence positively" to relieve the pressures on the policing budget.

Mr Kelly said he agreed with the finance minister's call for more transparency regarding the budget.

"But what should be obviously transparent to the minister is the unacceptable waste of millions of pounds policing the illegal protest camp at Twaddell and the proliferation of marches being organised by groups protesting the democratic decision by Belfast City Council on the flying of the union flag," he said.

"If the minister and his party colleagues would use their influence positively on this issue I have no doubt that it would go a long way towards relieving many of the pressures affecting the ability of the PSNI to deliver the effective community policing that we all signed up to."

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