Northern Ireland news

Unionists voice concerns over Police Ombudsman proposals

Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson
Connla Young

UNIONISTS have said they will not support proposals by the Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson to compel only former officers to co-operate with her office.

Mrs Anderson is currently drawing up a legal paper which she will present to justice minister Naomi Long next month.

Under the proposal the ombudsman, who took up post last year, wants to establish a dedicated act which would underpin her work.

The Police Ombudsman's Office is currently set up under policing legislation.

The proposal to widen the powers and remit of her office, which investigates contemporary and historical complaints against the police, coincides with the 20th anniversary of its establishment in 2000.

In an interview with the Irish News this week Mrs Anderson suggested that former police officers should be compelled to co-operate with her office.

Former RUC and PSNI officers are currently not obliged to take part in ombudsman investigations.

Mrs Anderson said: “What is a frustration for me is, and it has been for other ombudsman, is the fact I cannot compel retired police officers to give evidence,” she said.

“That can mean a challenge for investigating the past if you can't actually compel officers to give evidence.”

She also suggested her office should have a greater role in disciplinary process involving PSNI officers.

As it stands her office can make recommendations to the PSNI, however, she is not involved in the disciplinary process and police do not have to accept recommendations made.

UUP justice spokesman Doug Beattie last night praised the role of the RUC during the Troubles and voiced concerns about the ombudsman's proposals.

“If the Ombudsman intends to go down this road then it should be through legislation - via the Department for Justice - that should compel any member of the public, as private citizens, to cooperate with her office and not just former police officers.

“The Ulster Unionist Party will not support the singling out of former retired police officers in this way. We would expect both the Chief Constable and the Justice Minister to ensure that former police officers will not be treated in any way less favourable than other private citizens.

SDLP Policing Board member Dolores Kelly welcomed the proposals.

“We have long called for that and voted for it on the record to be introduced before,” she said.

She added that “It's regrettable we have to introduce legislation (for people) to do the right thing”.

Sinn Féin justice spokeswoman Linda Dillon said her party supports the ombudsman's call for new legislation.

However, she warned that any new measures should not replace the legacy mechanisms proposed in the Stormont House Agreement.

She said her party supports “anything that will help families get the truth and justice”.

“The fact that the Police Ombudsman's Office have to do this highlights the failure of the British government to implement the (SHA) mechanisms,” she said.

A spokesman for the Department of Justice said the minister “looks forward to considering the proposals in due course and discussing them with the Ombudsman”.

“This will form part of an upcoming series of meetings with key stakeholders to take stock and consider any measures necessary to improve the current arrangements for policing oversight and accountability.”

The Northern Ireland Retired Police Officers Association could not be contacted.

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