Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (Renewal of Temporary Provisions) Order 2007
20 March 2007

In a debate on the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (Renewal of Temporary Provisions) Order 2007 in the Grand Committee of the House of Lords on 20 March 2007 Lord Trimble said,

'We would all do well to reflect on the two speeches that have just been made by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord opposite. It was welcome that they couched the issue in terms that departed from the narrow political and sectarian approach. There is much to commend in what they said. I understand the reservations of the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, about whether the republicans have gone all the way that they should to support policing in Northern Ireland. But for the purposes of my remarks I shall assume that if they have not yet gone the whole way in their language, they will, in short order, go the whole way in their conduct. On that basis I very much agreed with what the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, said about the changed circumstances. We are now in a different situation.

Part of the reason that was adduced to explain these measures was that of the need to give Catholic applicants a helping hand as it was feared that there would be insufficient numbers coming forward as a result of republican hostility to policing. But we are in a different situation now in that respect. Republicans are clearly moving towards supporting policing even if they have not gone the whole way. We have heard statements by the leadership of the republican movement calling on members of the Catholic nationalist and republican community to join the police. The Minister might find that he will become the victim of the law of unintended consequences. Nationalists and republicans have now moved to support policing—nationalists in the shape of the SDLP have clearly done that; Sinn Fein is clearly moving in that direction—and they are encouraging young nationalists and young republicans to join the police. Given that situation, is it not likely that we will now see a significant number of young republicans, who up until now have held back from involving themselves in policing, becoming involved in it and that there will be a surge in recruits, or applications to the police, from that quarter?

If that is the case—and there is good reason to expect that it will be the case within a short period if it is not now—the order that the Minister is bringing forward tonight will start to disadvantage Catholic applicants. Young republicans and young nationalists might have held back in the past because the republican movement was hostile to policing. As was mentioned, at the moment we are still getting more applications to the police from people of a Protestant background than from people of a Catholic background. It is quite possible that within a matter of months or a year or so that will switch and we shall find more Catholic than Protestant applicants coming forward. The Minister should bear in mind that as regards the relevant age group—young men aged 18 to 25—there is a rough equality in numbers in terms of the demographics, so what I have described is quite likely to occur. So we could see a situation where more applications are coming forward from a Catholic background but this legislation limits recruitment to 50 per cent. You will find it working against Catholic applicants. I understand that the Minister said that he can calculate that with the recruitment that is taking place, the 30 per cent target will be achieved by 2011 without the order. It is perfectly possible that that target could be achieved earlier than 2011. I do not know whether anyone has bothered to think this out.

There is a general issue here. Discrimination is wrong in principle. I have never personally favoured discrimination or supported people who discriminate. Discrimination is wrong in principle, but it is also a bad thing in practice. I have given one example: how, in the change of circumstances that is likely to happen, we are likely to find that the untoward impact of the order, which will probably be approved shortly, will have a negative effect reverse to that originally intended. It is also bad from the point of view of policing. The noble and most reverend Lord, Lord Eames, made the point about the high quality of people who have been turned down. Statisticians tell me that they can, from looking at the figures, work out that roughly one-quarter of the Catholic recruits to the police service during the past number of years are persons who would not have got in on pure merit—if recruitment was done purely on the basis of getting the best person for the job. The word merit is sometimes given a strange meaning in the legislation; I am not using it in those terms; I am using it in its real sense. The merit principle means that you go for the best qualified applicants. If we had been going for the best qualified applicants, one-quarter of the Catholics who have gone into the police service would not have got in.

It is not a wise thing ever, in any line of business, especially policing, not to be recruiting the best qualified people. That will obviously have a negative effect on the quality of the police service, but think about the consequences, think about the next stage. People join as constables. In a few years’ time, they will start to think about their chances of promotion. The legislation applies only to recruitment; it does not apply to promotion. Therefore, when it comes to promotions, if the promotions are done purely on merit—the best qualified people are promoted—we are likely then to see an imbalance in promotions.

If it turns out in the years to come that promotions are done on something roughly 50:50, that will be prima facie evidence of discrimination, which, this time, will not be protected by legislation. In our modern litigious age, you can be sure that there will be a significant number of complaints to the Equality Commission and actions brought on the matter. So there will be problems down the line. That reinforces my point that this is a bad idea in practice as well as in principle. I shall not labour the point on the matter of principle, but I find it strange and wonder to myself sometimes what it is about the Labour movement, which trumpets its attachment to human rights and equality but has an itch to discriminate. We see that itch here. We were reading in the press in the past few days about university entrance. The desire to discriminate there runs throughout the Labour Party. I could also mention the way in which the Labour Party has shamelessly discriminated against everybody in Northern Ireland over the course of the past 80 years and denied them their political and civil rights. It continues to do so, despite being dragged to employment tribunals over it. The desire seems to lie within the Labour Party to discriminate.

The Minister's language was telling. He said at one stage that the effect, the consequences of the legislation certainly justifies the measure. It is not and it can never be justified. The Government’s defence up to now has been that it is expedient, but not that it is justified. Discrimination is not, and cannot, be justified. The Minister’s only defence is to say that it is expedient, but, as I have pointed out, he may find that it is no longer so.

Finally, to give him his own words again on that basic point, he said at one stage in his introduction, “I’ve got lots of figures here to show that the climate has changed”. If the climate has changed, then the Government should recognise the change and get out of the mindset they have had for the past half dozen years. This is not necessary. If the Minister persists with this, he will find that it has negative consequences; not just those I have mentioned, but also with regard to promotion. Stop discriminating.'

To read the debate in full click here

20 March 2007

» Return to House of Lords section

Published by the Office of The Right Honourable The Lord Trimble, of Lisnagarvey in the County of Antrim.
Tel: 020 7219 3000 | Fax: 020 7219 5979 | Email: [email protected]