HC Deb 01 May 2002 vol 384 cc937-8
3. Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East)

What progress is being made in recruitment and training for the new Northern Ireland police service. [51669]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Jane Kennedy)

The first intake of new recruits graduated on 5 April, and the second graduation ceremony will take place on 10 May, involving a further 60 graduates. By next week, some 300 recruits appointed on a 50:50 basis will have started training. Although figures are not yet available for the latest campaign, the response is understood to be, again, encouraging.

Mr. Connarty

I thank my hon. Friend for her reply. At least I was listening; not many other people were.

It was, in fact, a very mellow reply, given that Sinn Fein is clearly running a campaign in Northern Ireland to discourage members of the nationalist community from applying to join the police force. Will my hon. Friend convey to the people of Northern Ireland the message that if Sinn Fein wants to be regarded as any part of the peace process and of the approach towards a civilised society, it must encourage the rule of law? That means stepping aside and letting members of the nationalist community choose to join the police, rather than trying to interfere and stop the development of an objective cross-community police force which is necessary for the achievement of the civilised society we want to see in Northern Ireland.

Jane Kennedy

I entirely agree. The response from the Catholic community has been unprecedented; if anything is holding back the process of change, it is Sinn Fein's refusal to endorse the new arrangements, and its campaign to dissuade Catholics from joining the police.

Intimidation from any quarter is utterly unacceptable. We believe that, in the light of the enormous changes that have been made and of cross-party and international support for those changes, the onus is squarely on Sinn Fein to encourage nationalists and republicans to join the police.

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry)

Given this morning's partisan statement on police recruitment by the policing oversight commissioner, when will the Government begin a recruitment procedure in Northern Ireland that does not discriminate against the Protestant community?

Jane Kennedy

We are entirely confident that the 50:50 recruitment procedure that is in place is meeting the needs of the new Police Service of Northern Ireland. In fact, this morning's publication of the oversight commissioner's report is very welcome. He rightly pays tribute to the work of the Policing Board and the progress of the recruitment programme. It is a report on work in progress, and we will look very closely at the conclusions that he has drawn.