: I am not a councillor. I thank the members for the invitation to contribute. Regardless of where one is based, the issues discussed here are very important. We are all colleagues, as LAMA and Councillor Montgomery's organisation, NAC, formed the confederation through amalgamation. I know testimonies and briefings from other individuals and agencies from Northern Ireland will probably have given the committee an insight into the bigger picture of policing in the jurisdiction, so I will merely touch on the background to these issues that have brought us to where we are now, while focusing on community policing and the roles of local authorities and their members within the present structures.
My role is that of partnership manager of the Confederation of European Councillors, a body that is essentially the partnership organisation of local authority representatives in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Our origins lie in the relationship that developed between the National Association of Councillors and the Local Authority Members' Association; one has been placed on a more structured basis in recent years. There has been growth in the number and variety of bodies or movements that operate fully or in part on a North-South basis over the past five to ten years, and one of the most relevant areas in terms of politics for co-operation on areas of mutual interest is through local representatives, as they are and should be viewed as the leaders in local communities who are most closely connected to what is happening on the ground. As we move forward in Ireland and on our islands, the part they play in developing relations and issues and areas of mutual interest cannot be under estimated.
We do not under-estimate the value of being a body of politicians made up of all of the major political parties on the island of Ireland. Our board reflects most of the political parties in both jurisdictions. Those board members represent Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour and Progressive Democrats in the Republic of Ireland, and the Ulster Unionists, Democratic Unionist Party, Social Democratic and Labour Party, and Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland. They are all councillors and they talk about very practical issues. In that way it is unique, and if we want as a people to exist in harmony where we respect each others viewpoints but work on areas of co-operation and mutual interest, it is only right that local representatives lead the way.
Our name is a curiosity to some. The name of the organisation appears more and more apt as we develop, because we are funded through Europe, and part of our ambition is to explore relevant links throughout these islands and beyond to continental Europe. Our funding has allowed us to extend and strengthen the links, to enhance friendship and co-operation, to promote civic leadership and dialogue and to provide an effective forum for councillors to discuss and progress political issues and cross-Border and cross-community matters.
Councillors and councils North and South have a vital role to play in civic leadership, and the roles, responsibilities, powers and functions, while differing in some ways in the two jurisdictions, are generally the same. If we expect local representatives to take responsibility on vital areas of everyday life, from local education, health, planning and waste management, then it is natural that they should play a leading role in an area as vital as law and order. This is no different in Northern Ireland and the Republic than it is in the US or anywhere in the world. Law, order and policing are not just global or national issues, they are just as important at local level. We cannot expect our local politicians to provide commentary on local policing and security without allowing them to engage directly with the identification and implementation of the key aspects.
With this in mind, the recent developments in policing in Northern Ireland took account of the importance of involving local politicians and their constituents in the policing processes. In relation to any questions or comments the committee may have, please bear in mind that it is not within my remit and I do not have a particular expertise in this arena, but my colleagues are more directly involved and well-versed in the every day matters, particularly Councillor Montgomery on Northern Ireland, as he is a member of the District Policing Partnership in Magherafelt. I will concentrate on community policing in Northern Ireland, as I was aware that there was a representation to the committee from LAMA.
Much has been recorded and talked about on the history of policing in Northern Ireland, though the modern phase of development essentially begins with the peace process and the evolution of the recommendations since 1998. Policing has changed dramatically since the signing of the Agreement and particularly its recommendation to establish an Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland. The vision for change was set down by Chris Patten and his team in 1999, and the foundations for these new arrangements came through the two major police Acts passed since then.
Throughout the change process, developing a police service that is more effective and representative of the community it serves and which obtains the confidence and support it needs has been the main aim as it was not there all along. Among the first changes was in November 2001 the policing board was established, with Nationalist and Unionist participation and extensive powers to hold the police to account. The RUC was renamed the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI, with a new badge for the service.
A third key institution which relates to our bodies has been the creation of District Policing Partnerships, DPPs, in 2003, which essentially gave local people a stake in policing and was designed to provide policing accountability at local level. Other developments include the establishment of the Oversight Commissioner, currently Mr. Al Hutchinson, who has regularly reported on the reforms described by that office as the most comprehensive change programme ever embarked upon by a police service anywhere in the world. In 2000, the initiation of the office of the Police Ombudsman, which deals with complaints about police conduct, meant that Northern Ireland now had one of the most rigorous systems of independent civilian oversight of policing in the world.
The policing board in Northern Ireland includes a number of members of the Assembly at Stormont who are also members of local authorities. It is within these DPPs that councillors have played a real and effective role alongside the police and their constituents. An important theme of the Patten report was that policing should be more localised by creating district command units that would cover the same area as district councils. By district councils, I mean borough councils and city councils. The commission also said that regular discussions on policing issues should take place at district level between police and the community. As a means of achieving this, almost exactly two years ago, the DPPs were initiated as meaningful partnerships between the local councils, councillors and representatives of the community for the purpose of monitoring the effectiveness of policing in that area. The partnerships reflected the geographical make-up of local government, there are 26 partnerships and 26 councils, though there is a special requirement for Belfast to have four sub-groups, one for each district command unit within that council area.
More than 1,500 people applied to sit on the partnerships alongside the political members, who were selected by their councils to reflect the balance of parties in their chambers. The policing board appointed 215 people to serve alongside the 241 elected members. An interesting point to add is that this also led to one of the largest single appointments of women to public bodies in recent years. Also, the chief executives of the councils, which would be the county managers in the South, have overall responsibility for setting up the DPP and ensuring its effective operation, while each council is obliged to commit 25% of reasonable expenses incurred by the DPP.
It is interesting to note that six of the nine members from Northern Ireland who sit on our board of the Confederation of European Councillors are members of DPPs in Ards, Ballymena, Coleraine, Lisburn, Newry and Mourne and Mr. Bertie Montgomery in Magherafelt. The DPPs act as fora for discussion and consultation on matters affecting the policing of the district for which it is responsible, including for example, the prioritisation of policing issues on behalf of local people and contributing to the formulation of local policing plans. The strength of this system emanates from the fact that it provides a unique opportunity for local people to shape local policing and it is a good mechanism for facilitating dialogue between the police and the local community.
There is an expectation that each DPP hold at least six public meetings a year in different places and at different times to maximise the number of people that can take part. At each of these public meetings the district commander will present his or her report and the DPP will then question him or her on issues that have been raised in the report and will also ask the police questions that may have been forwarded to them by members of the public.
From there, annual reports are submitted to the councils and forwarded to the policing board, while comprehensive surveys and community attitudinal analyses that were carried out in 2003 and 2004 have provided information used in formulating local policing plans. The surveys were sent to 60,000 households and addressed areas such as existing problems, priority areas for policing resources, satisfaction rates, awareness, and confidence levels in policing and DPPs. The result of these studies is an overall policing plan for 2005-08 based around six key areas at the centre of policing: citizen focus; reducing crime; improving crime investigation and increasing detection; promoting public safety; resources; and progressing the programme of change for the police. Within each of these areas, the policing board has set objectives and targets for the police to achieve. For example, during 2005-06 the PSNI will aim to work to increase public confidence, reduce violent crime, reduce the fear of crime which was an important issue in the surveys, improve crime detection and investigation, promote public safety by dealing with anti-social behaviour and road safety problems, improve police organisational effectiveness and efficiency and continue to implement the PSNI programme of change.
It is worth noting that while the unique recent history and circumstances have brought about the changes and developments in Northern Ireland's policing structures and systems, international models of community policing have been considered during the establishment and progression of the DPPs and local policing structures, particularly from Canada, the United States where Boston was one area studied, and some of the EU countries.
Above all, the local policing structures in Northern Ireland are unique and are already providing models of best practice in a jurisdiction where policing has long been such a divided area. The DPPs have served to improve overall confidence in policing, while engaging people in a very practical manner on areas of policy and operation. That is not to say they have not encountered problems, among them the obvious fact that the policing board and DPPs are still not able to benefit from the full range of political representation necessary for true accountability and effectiveness, while some DPP members have suffered from high-profile attacks and intimidation. Change will inevitably take time, and we must remember that many of the present day problems that exist are not necessarily unique to Northern Ireland. The involvement of all agents would obviously enhance the structures, as the full potential of the changes would be hard to imagine without those who are not presently engaged.
However in his report last September, the Oversight Commissioner stated that the transformation to policing in Northern Ireland in recent years has been remarkable and that the deep change that the police service would undergo is beginning to take root. He added "such widespread police reform did not occur in a vacuum, but in an environment of real people with genuine concerns and expectations".