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Police Service of Northern Ireland

Volume 587: debated on Wednesday 29 October 2014

1. What discussions she has had with Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive on ensuring the Police Service of Northern Ireland is adequately resourced. (905664)

May I first convey to the House the apologies of the Northern Ireland Minister who is chairing cross-party talks in Stormont today?

It is for the Executive to ensure that the PSNI is properly resourced, and the Government have provided significant additional funding to tackle terrorism, totalling £231 million. We are now working with the PSNI to understand the impact that funding reductions imposed by the Northern Ireland Executive will have on its ability to police the terrorist threat.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland is experiencing budgetary shortfalls that the Chief Constable has said will leave it “unrecognisable”, and “put lives at risk.” What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that budget cuts to the PSNI do not undermine the peace process or put lives at risk?

This is a very serious matter, and as the hon. Lady has said, the Chief Constable is concerned about the extent of the reductions proposed. A real concern is that a number of the cuts are in-year cuts, which makes achieving them through efficiency reforms very difficult. The Government will continue to support the PSNI with substantial extra security funding, but the Chief Constable now believes that the reductions proposed by the Executive will impact on his ability to police terrorism. We are working closely with him to ascertain exactly what that impact will be, and to see what steps can be taken to mitigate it.

13. I pay tribute to the PSNI, which does a marvellous job in very difficult circumstances. Will my right hon. Friend consider whether it would be assisted by the National Crime Agency operating in Northern Ireland, and in particular by tackling the gangs that are still operating down in South Armagh—the same gangs that used to shoot and murder British soldiers, and that are still trying to murder police officers? They should be brought to book by the NCA. (905676)

I agree with my right hon. Friend in paying tribute to the PSNI, and allowing the NCA to operate with its full remit in Northern Ireland is essential if we are to combat organised crime effectively. This matter does impact on PSNI funding, because its inability to receive the full support of the NCA and having to do the work that the NCA would otherwise do for it places additional pressures on the PSNI.

The Secretary of State will be aware that due to budget cuts the PSNI has effectively ceased all investigations into historical crimes associated with the troubles. Does she accept that that places a greater responsibility on all political parties to agree new mechanisms to deal with the past that put the needs of victims and their families first?

It is very important that political parties in Northern Ireland find a way to agree a fresh approach to the past, and that is one reason why cross-party talks have been convened. We need to listen to the needs of victims, and we must also understand the increasing pressure on the PSNI and the criminal justice system. I believe it is important that we find a way forward on that, not least to relieve pressure on the PSNI so that it can concentrate on the important policing needs of today.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that she will be having discussions with the Executive about Operation Red Field?

I have regular discussions with the PSNI on the question of on-the-runs and Operation Red Field, and I will do so again. It is crucial that the Executive parties reach an agreement on the budget for next year, and that they take into account the crucial importance of appropriate resourcing for the PSNI, and of course the cost of policing the past.

The PSNI certainly needs to have adequate resources, not least to ensure that there are full and proper investigations into the continuing scandals involving Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein in relation to cases of sexual abuse, paedophilia, cover up, and the exiling of people from Northern Ireland to the Irish Republic. Does the Secretary of State agree that no amount of waffle or self-serving platitudes from Gerry Adams or the Sinn Fein leadership can distract or take away from the awfulness of those crimes, and the need for them to be brought fully to light?

Any abuse or sex crime is appalling, and I entirely share the right hon. Gentleman’s concerns about the allegations made by Mairia Cahill. It is genuinely a very shocking, disturbing and distressing case, and all such crimes, whether the acts themselves or any purported cover-up, need to be fully investigated by the police. An independent review is set to take place into the way the original case around the allegations made by Mairia Cahill was handled.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for her reply and for her reference to the independent investigation by Keir Starmer into Mairia Cahill’s allegations. However, does she understand the concern and anger of people right across the community in Northern Ireland in relation to the allegations against Gerry Adams about the cover-up of the sexual abuse by his brother and his refusal to go to the police or to alert people about what was going on within Sinn Fein and the republican movement, putting other children and young people at risk? We still have not had the publication of the report by the Public Prosecution Service or the police ombudsman. Does she accept that there can be no whitewash of the black sins of Sinn Fein in relation to sexual abuse and paedophilia?

These are indeed shocking crimes and shocking allegations. I certainly would urge Sinn Fein to answer all the questions that have been put to them about this very disturbing case.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is quite intolerable for my constituents in Aldershot who served with the Parachute Regiment in Northern Ireland to read in the newspapers that, because of lack of resources in the PSNI, so-called historic crimes will no longer be investigated or are in doubt? It is grossly unfair to my constituents, who have served this country to the best of their ability to try to keep the peace between the warring parties, still to be living with the threat, nearly 60 years on, of prosecution.

I agree with my hon. Friend that there are many people who will suffer as a result of the announcements in recent days in relation to delays in legacy matters and criminal justice in Northern Ireland. That is an important reason to press ahead with a fresh approach on the past, to be agreed through the cross-party talks, but it is also a crucial reason for the Executive to agree a budget and to make sure that they give appropriate priority to the need for police resources when they reach that agreement.

May I just gently point out to the House that we have a lot of questions to get through and we need to speed up?