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Budgets slashed: Historic investigations threatened

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Date - 9th September 2014
By - Cliff Caswell - Police Oracle


Concern is mounting that the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) is under increasing financial and logistical pressures and will soon not have the resources to deal with the past.

Chief Constable George Hamilton said his force was feeling the pressure and was finding it difficult to deal with the province's troubled past while keeping the public safe in the present.

He added: "I want to be clear - the PSNI is committed to fulfilling a role in responding to Northern Ireland's troubled past, not least because we are legally obliged to do so but because dealing with the past is essential to a safe, confident and peaceful future.

"But as chief constable, I have to balance this commitment with the demands of keeping people safe in the present day. It would be unfair and irresponsible not to make clear the significant strain it is placing on the organisation I am responsible for leading.

"The strain is being felt both in terms of operational resources and, significantly, in terms of public confidence…the reality is that I do not have infinite resources."

CC Hamilton, who was addressing the British-Irish Association conference in Oxford, was speaking after Northern Ireland Justice Minister David Ford suggested that his department was facing having to deal with a £47 million budget shortfall going forward. 

It was recently confirmed that Stormont departments, excluding health and education, would have their budgets cut in the wake of political wrangling over welfare reform.

'Genuine and unique'

The Police Federation for Northern Ireland has said the police will be unable to cope with reductions of this magnitude - at a time when officer numbers are being squeezed. 

In his speech, CC Hamilton said that the Historical Enquiries Team, formed by former PSNI chief Sir Hugh Orde, was a "genuine and unique" attempt to address the issue of past deaths.

More than 300 police officers were among the 3,260 people who lost their lives between 1969 and the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

But he pointed out that it was never envisaged that this would be a standalone solution to the issue no broader solution had been found to dealing with the issue.

CC Hamilton concluded that the status quo relating to past deaths was "not an option".

The ACPO officer added: "My view is that action is needed if policing, and indeed our peace process, is not to be dragged backward - we must strive for something better.

"We owe it to all those who have suffered and we we owe it to our children and the young people of today who have the right to a safe, confident and peaceful future."

Speaking later to PoliceOracle.com, PFNI Chairman Terry Spence said he appreciated the chief constable's concern over budgets - but stressed that the principle of justice needed to prevail.

"There are still 209 unsolved murders of officers in Northern Ireland," he stressed.