Northern Ireland news

Cuts to PSNI services to be announced following recruitment freeze

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne speaking to the media at PSNI College Garnerville,
John Breslin

Details of cuts in PSNI services will follow the announcement of a freeze on police recruitment as the force faces a budget gap of close to £60m.

Pressure on the PSNI's near £800m staff and operating budget has increased with rising fuel and utility bills - along with a five per cent national pay raise - recently adding £21m to costs.

Chief Constable Simon Byrne had earlier this year warned the PSNI was facing a shortfall of £34m. This has now increased to £59m for the year and could reach £90m if no action is taken.

New recruits due to begin training in October - a total of 51 - will be the last taken on in this financial year to the end of March. However, 129 of 224 people on a list ready to begin training will not do so.

Mr Byrne is expected to outline cuts to services at the next Policing Board meeting to be held on Thursday week.

A Department of Justice spokesperson said: "The recruitment of police officers is ultimately an operational matter for the Chief Constable who is accountable to the Northern Ireland Policing Board."

But Justice Minister Naomi Long has warned the draft three year budget, published last year but never delivered on due to the political instability and then collapse of the Executive, would cause irreparable damage to the justice system, particularly in relation to the police budget.

Ms Long is coming under pressure to intervene in a situation some believe is evolving into a crisis.

Policing Board Chair Doug Garrett said "the size of the funding gap (is) sitting at £59m, and growing to £90m, including through increased utility costs".

"Over the last number of months, the Board has discussed at length with the Chief Constable the potential impacts of reduced numbers, and the Chief Constable has advised the Board that a more detailed assessment of the impacts on service delivery will be shared with the Board for full discussion," Mr Garrett said.

"The Board has written to the Justice Minister in support of the Chief Constable's concerns, urged for clarity on the policing budget and the need for an improved financial settlement for policing.”

DUP South Antrim MLA Trevor Clarke, a member of the Policing Board, said: "The pressures currently engulfing the PSNI's budget are sadly a symptom of a decade-long underinvestment in policing."

Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt noted the news of the freeze broke on the same day the PSNI published it first ever action plan aimed at reducing violence against women and girls.

“That plan commits the police to ‘relentlessly pursuing perpetrators' and rooting out inappropriate behaviour in their own ranks, but given that we are now looking at a force well below the 7,500 officers it needs, it's a fair question to ask if the PSNI will have the officers it needs to perform the tasks it has promised," Mr Nesbitt said.

At the launch of the plan, the PSNI said women and girls were "disproportionately affected" by violence, abuse and intimidation, accounting for 78% of all victims of sexual crimes and 68% of victims of domestic abuse.

Chief Constable Simon Byrne described the publication of the plan as "a watershed moment", describing the 40-page plan as making clear the issue is a "top priority".

Between 2017 and 2021, 34 women and girls across Northern Ireland were killed by men.

Northern Ireland news