The Stormont House agreement included an undertaking by the Northern Ireland Executive to protect the PSNI’s budget from significant reductions. I very much welcome the additional £20 million for the police in the Executive’s final budget for 2015-16. This is in addition to security funding of £231 million provided by this Government to help the PSNI tackle the terrorist threat.
This is of course something I take a very close interest in. That is one of the reasons why the Government have provided the extra security funding and why we included provision in the Stormont House agreement to link our funding package with a commitment by the Executive on police resources. Clearly, the threats to police officers continue to be real and significant, and I welcome the success that the PSNI and An Garda Siochana have had in significant arrests and disruptions, which I believe have contributed substantially to suppressing the terrorist threat.
As I said, the resource position for the police has been improved with the changes in the draft final budget. The position of the police would be further improved if the NCA were to operate to its full capacity in Northern Ireland, because at present the PSNI is doing work that would otherwise be done by the NCA. The establishment of the Historical Investigations Unit in the coming months will further relieve the PSNI of responsibilities in relation to policing the past, freeing up time and resources for policing the present.
These matters are crucially important. The crime figures in Northern Ireland continue to make it clear that Northern Ireland is one of the safest places in Europe and has some of the lowest levels of crime, but I know that the PSNI takes very seriously the regular crime that is the bane of people’s lives and is working hard to combat it, in addition to its duties in relation to national security.
The hon. Member for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper) referred to the attack on PSNI headquarters in my constituency. In addition to being under threat when in uniform and on duty, officers are often under threat in their own homes. The PSNI needs resources to be able to provide adequate security measures at officers’ homes if it is to retain officers who have been trained. What can the Secretary of State do to allow additional funding for the PSNI to ensure that that happens?
As I said, one way to do that would be to take burdens off the PSNI’s shoulders by implementing the NCA. Continued focus on trying to resolve parading disputes is also important, given their potential impact on police resources. It is crucial that we get the new institutions on the past up and running as soon as possible to provide that relief to PSNI funding, and, as we discussed in the House yesterday, we need to consider whether any of the £150 million for dealing with the past can be deployed prior to the establishment of the HIU to help on these matters for the PSNI.
The Conservative party seems to want to introduce new protocols to the House, believing everything in The Sun and demanding that the Labour party take responsibility for problems that are clearly the responsibility of the Government.
Yesterday, the Secretary of State was unable to tell us how long it would take the PSNI to review the case of all those covered by the on-the-runs scheme. When will she be able to answer that question? In lieu of the creation of a new architecture to deal with the past, what will the PSNI be doing in the meantime to deal with some of the unresolved murders?
How to deal with such cases, the priority given to them and the length of time it will take are matters for the PSNI, but it has said publicly that it will take some years to progress through the cases under Operation Redfield. As I told the House yesterday, it is important for us to consider whether any of the £150 million that is to be devoted to matters relating to legacy cases can be used to assist the PSNI in its work prior to the establishment of new institutions to look at past cases.