Just over 800 full-time police reservists, who are overwhelmingly Protestant, have been offered severance packages worth up to a hundred thousand pounds sterling as a lump sum, with a pension to follow.
The planned reduction of the reserve by some 55 per cent has dismayed nationalists as it fails to implement the recommendations of the Patten Commission, set up under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The Patten Commission recommended that the reserve, founded 33 years ago to support the former RUC, be abolished.
Those not accepting the severance package may apply to join the main PSNI ranks or sign a 3-year contract to remain in the reserve.
PSNI Chief Hugh Orde announced his decision to the Policing Board at their headquarters in Belfast yesterday.
The decision angered the Police Federation, which represents the reserve officers. Its leader said he was appalled at Mr Orde’s “monumental blunder”.
Unionists and the Alliance Party were also angry, believing the PSNI to be short of frontline officers. David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist leader said: “The Chief Constable must now address how he can restore his credibility.” Sammy Wilson of the DUP said the decision marked “a loss for everyone”.
Sinn Féin criticised the move, pointing out that it was contrary to the Patten recommendations. But the SDLP, which unlike Sinn Féin has taken its seats on the Policing Board which runs the PSNI, said it was a good day for policing.
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Policing Gerry Kelly said the full-time reserve was established in 1970 as a “unionist militia” within the RUC.
“It is unrepresentative and is associated with some of the worst excesses of a failed policing agenda. Therefore for progress to be made towards a new beginning it has to be removed from the policing equation.
“It is five years to the day since the Patten Report was launched. Patten was very clear that the Full Time Reserve should be quickly phased out. This has not happened. The Policing Board with the support of the SDLP have allowed this force to remain within the current policing structures. This is unacceptable.”
He also said that nationalists had been angered at the massive severance package agreed for those reservists who wish to leave.
“It seems as if failed and unrepresentative policing is being rewarded with massive amounts of public money.”
Mr Orde said he was confident the move was the right decision and was based solely on policing and operational considerations.
He added: “It is an operational decision that takes the current security situation into account and I accept responsibility for it.”
Mr Orde said “dissident” republican groups remained the most significant threat to policing. “There is every indication that they will maintain attacks on police patrols and stations.”