On 4 September 2006, I launched a wide-ranging review of the effectiveness of the temporary provisions of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000. This review formed part of the Secretary of State’s statutory duty to have regard to progress made towards securing that membership of the police and police support staff is representative of the community in Northern Ireland, and to consult with the policing board, when making a decision as to whether these provisions should be renewed. This consultation ended on 27 November 2006.
As a result of these temporary provisions, tremendous progress has been made during the last few years towards a more representative Police Service for Northern Ireland with the proportion of Catholic officers in the regulars increasing from 8.3 per cent. in 1998 to 21.19 per cent. on 17 January 2007. The number of Catholic applications to the PSNI has also been encouraging, averaging 35 per cent. in each competition. Catholic representation among civilian staff also continues to rise. The percentage of directly recruited Catholic police support staff has increased from 13.76 per cent. in January 2002 to 22.12 per cent. on 1 January 2007 with the overall composition now at 16.99 per cent. There are a number of initiatives ongoing which will continue to improve this over time. An example of this is the proposed introduction of Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) who will be civilians recruited under the 50:50 provisions.
The Government are committed in continuing to address the religious imbalance within the police service and the St. Andrews agreement makes it clear that the temporary 50:50 recruitment arrangements to the PSNI will lapse when the Government’s target of 30 per cent. Catholic officers has been achieved. For these reasons, and after looking carefully at the responses to the consultation, the Secretary of State has now decided that those temporary provisions should be renewed for a further three years. This will enable the Government to reach their target of 30 per cent. Catholic representation in PSNI by 2010-11. That is why today I am laying before Parliament the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (Renewal of Temporary Provisions) Order 2007. There will be an opportunity to debate the order in both Houses of Parliament.