PSNI may delay scrapping full-time reserve

Thursday 29 April 2010 14.24
PSNI - Dissident republican threat
PSNI - Dissident republican threat

Northern Ireland's Chief Constable has indicated there will be no long-term reprieve for the PSNI's full-time reserve.

Matt Baggott’s pledge that the reserve would definitely be wound up on schedule next year came after it emerged that he was considering asking some of its officers to delay leaving front-line duties to help tackle the escalating threat from dissident republicans.

He also rejected recent claims the PSNI was underequipped to deal with the paramilitaries.

More than 200 officers are due to enter a nine-month period of training in June to prepare them for losing their jobs when the FTR is formally wound up in March, 2011.

But Mr Baggott may now ask them to remain on duty right up to the disbandment date, and only then enter the training programme, a move that would cost around £6m (€6.9m).

He stressed a final decision had not been made on whether to pursue this option, but made clear it would have no implications for the wind-up timetable.

‘I need to be clear there is no decision and there won`t be a decision to retain the Full Time Reserve beyond March 2011,’ he said.

Extending the service of reservists is one of a number of options the PSNI is examining in a bid to tackle the upsurge in dissident activity.

Since November, when Mr Baggott confirmed he was pushing ahead with the Reserve phase out, there has been a dissident republican attack that seriously injured a police officer and a series of car bombs outside police and court buildings.

Mr Baggott said the proposal would only be a short term move to ensure there was sufficient manpower in under-threat areas until the completion of an initiative to redeploy more regular officers from desk jobs onto the beat.

The chief said 400 regulars had already been repositioned to front line duties, with more to follow this summer.

But he said other bureaucracy-busting measures - such as a drive to reduce the amount of paperwork the PSNI has to compile for prosecutors - would take longer to implement.

‘I think the reason why we have been exploring in confidence the issue of retaining the Reserve is simply because some of the reforms I want to bring about to get even more officers on the street will take a little longer,’ he explained.

The disbandment of the Reserve is required under the terms of peace process policing reforms that saw the PSNI replace the RUC under the Patten reforms ten years ago.

The recommendation is a controversial one and has been the source of intense political argument.

Unionists view the Reserve with deep admiration, crediting its officers for holding the line in the dark days of the troubles.

However, nationalists and republicans have a very different view, holding some reservists responsible for abuses against their communities during the conflict.

Mr Baggott, who has been consulting with Stormont`s new Justice Minister David Ford and the Policing Board on the issue, said he would not contravene the political agreements that had set down a timetable for phasing out the FTR.

The chief constable also responded to claims earlier this week by the Police Federation - the body representing rank and file officers - that the PSNI did not have the resources to tackle the dissidents.

Federation chair Terry Spence warned that Northern Ireland was in danger of `sleep walking` into another sustained terrorist campaign if Mr Baggott was not given more money.

However, the chief said he was satisfied with the resources available to him and pointed out that he had access to a special Treasury security fund to drawn down extra money to deal with the terror threat.

He said he had already obtained £38m (€44m) from this pot and had outstanding bids for up to £13m (€15m) more still under consideration.

But Mr Baggott made clear he would not be approaching the Stormont Executive with requests for additional long-term funding until he completed his own rationalisation programme.

‘I am not going to go to the Assembly and say `gimme, gimme` when we are in the middle of a recession, where the decision will be `do we build hospitals or have police officers` when I have fully equipped, trained, warranted police offices still sitting behind desks,’ he said.