Police Board

Oral Answers to Questions — Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 19th February 2001.

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Photo of Mr Duncan Dalton Mr Duncan Dalton UUP 2:30 pm, 19th February 2001

2. asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to detail any discussions they have had with the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State regarding the establishment of the new Police Board.

(AQO 855/00)

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble First Minister of Northern Ireland, Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party

We have not jointly discussed that matter with the Prime Minister, the current Secretary of State or, indeed, his predecessor. However, our respective parties have, of course, met each of those named persons to discuss the issue.

Photo of Mr Duncan Dalton Mr Duncan Dalton UUP

Does the First Minister agree that the failure of the SDLP and Sinn Féin to offer their support to the Police Service is undermining confidence in the agreement? Is it not true that if the Ulster Unionist Party had taken the same attitude to the establishment of the Executive that those parties have taken to the Police Board, there would not even be an Assembly at the moment? Is it not a disgrace that at this difficult time, with pipe bomb attacks and parliamentary activity continuing, those who complain daily about the attacks have not got the decency or the moral courage to support the police now?

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble First Minister of Northern Ireland, Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party

I understand the Member’s points, although I might have couched them in slightly different language. Everybody is anxious to see progress being made on the issue, especially for the last reason that the Member mentioned — namely, the violence that is occurring and, in particular, the unacceptable level of pipe bomb attacks by some Loyalist elements.

We congratulate the Royal Ulster Constabulary on the success that it has had against the pipe bombers, but I am concerned that the continuing uncertainty about policing arrangements will have the effect of undermining the effectiveness and morale of the RUC and limiting its ability to deal with that serious issue.

Photo of Mr Patrick Roche Mr Patrick Roche NIUP

Will the Minister confirm that he would be totally opposed to the introduction into legislation of any retrospective powers of investigation for this Police Board? Does he agree that it would be unthinkable for the representatives of fully armed terrorist organisations to be allowed to participate, through the board, in the policing of Northern Ireland?

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

Order. Before giving the Minister the opportunity to reply, I remind Members that questions to Ministers — and I refer not just to this question — are supposed to refer to the Ministers’ areas of responsibility. There is a tendency for Members to go outside that and ask for opinions. There are other contexts where that is entirely appropriate, but in this context questions are supposed to refer to ministerial responsibilities.

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble First Minister of Northern Ireland, Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party

We have discussed the matters raised by Mr Roche with Ministers on several occasions. However, he has to take account of the fact that we now have legislation on the statute book that defines the position with regard to the measures that he mentioned. I am sure that he, like myself, would like to see sensible progress made on the issue as quickly as possible.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Does the First Minister acknowledge that the delay in establishing the Police Board is leading to a situation where the most vulnerable in society are under threat as a result of the hundreds of police officers currently leaving the force and not being replaced?

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble First Minister of Northern Ireland, Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party

That relates to the answer that I gave earlier with regard to uncertainty having the consequence of undermining the effectiveness and morale of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, especially when we have these rashes of pipe bomb attacks, which I am sure that the Member deplores as much as I do.