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Lady Hermon: Will the hon. Gentleman reflect on the      impression created by the discriminatory 50:50 procedure? It can always be cast at Catholic
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recruits that they are only there because of their religion. Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that that is enormously demeaning for good Catholic recruits?

Mark Durkan: The fact is that everyone who is recruited to the Police Service of Northern Ireland is suitably qualified, because all candidates have to be suitably qualified.

Hon. Members need to remember that the 50:50 recruitment policy was introduced in the context of the Patten report and a commission that looked into the question of how to create a new beginning for policing in Northern Ireland. Among other things, the commission might have had to consider the total disbandment of the Royal Ulster Constabulary as a way of creating the new beginning so that we started recruiting with a blank page.

4.45 pm

The decision was made that it would be wrong to move to the point of disbandment and to appoint and recruit afresh, even though some people argued for that. A decision was made to retain a large number of officers in an unrepresentative force. That is the first decision that we need to remember. If we were going to argue for open recruitment and fairness and that everything should be done on merit, we could have said, "Everyone out, it is now open recruitment; it is now open sky." For a variety of reasons, clearly that was not favoured. So 50:50 recruitment and the creation of turnover by offering severance packages to serving officers alongside the retention of thousands of serving officers who were overwhelmingly Protestant was a compromise package.

Hon. Members should remember that under Patten, after 10 years, we do not have Catholics over-represented in the Police Service of Northern Ireland; we will still have Catholics under-represented at 30 per cent. So people need to get some sense of perspective on the real import of 50:50 recruitment.

Mrs. Iris Robinson : I can take the hon. Gentleman's passion for fairness, equality and non-discrimination, but I have not heard too much noise from his party when discrimination has continued to be practised in quangos across Northern Ireland. I have not heard calls for proper representation of Protestants on those quangos.

Mark Durkan: The hon. Lady suggests that we are not concerned about under-representation of the Protestant community, but my party has always stood for strong anti-discrimination legislation, and we supported the creation of the Equality Commission and the Fair Employment Commission. The fair employment laws have acted to assist Protestants when they have been discriminated against and encouraged and assisted a variety of employers to improve the representation of Protestants in their work force. They have helped to improve the representation of Catholics in a series of work forces as well. For that reason, the Fair Employment Commission, the fair employment laws and the Equality Commission have always been opposed by the Democratic Unionist party. The party has opposed every measure aimed at fair employment and every counter-discrimination measure.
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The First Deputy Chairman: Order. There has been a reasonable exchange on that point. Can we now perhaps concentrate on the recruitment policies of the police service?

Mark Durkan: Thank you, Mrs. Heal. I began by saying that a number of false claims had been made. One of those false claims was made by the hon. Member for East Derry earlier. He said that thousands of people were rejected—

Mr. Peter Robinson: On a point of order, Mrs. Heal. Is it in order for the hon. Gentleman to make up the name of a constituency? My hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) represents East Londonderry, not East Derry.

The First Deputy Chairman: I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, but I do not think that it is a point of order for the Chair.

Mark Durkan: The hon. Gentleman said in his earlier remarks that thousands of people were rejected as a result of 50:50, but the figures from eight tranches of recruitment show that only 541 people were rejected as a result of 50:50 out of a total of 3,879 who were rejected. The great thing is that we had 3,879 people applying alongside the other people who were accepted. That in itself shows the change that we have achieved in the concept of policing.

It also needs to be remembered that, as a result of the opportunities created by the Patten reforms, we have more young Protestants being recruited to the police service year on year than happened in the years before Patten and the 50:50 policy. The Minister may be able to give us the relevant figures later when he contributes to the debate, but the numbers of young Protestants recruited to the police service in the years preceding Patten and the 50:50 policy were far lower than the numbers of young Protestants now being recruited to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. People need to get that into perspective and context. The DUP opposed the Patten changes because it wanted to retain the old RUC and personnel as it was. If it had had its way the number of young Protestants who are now applying to and succeeding in joining the police would not be what it is.

Mr. Dodds: The hon. Gentleman attempts to defend the indefensible. His hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) admitted that there was discrimination, describing it as marginal. Is the hon. Gentleman effectively saying that there is an acceptable level of discrimination when it comes to the Police Service of Northern Ireland?

Mark Durkan: The hon. Gentleman is arguing that there is discrimination. We have also been told that the policy breaches human rights. Let us remember that a legal challenge was brought against the 50:50 policy on human rights grounds and it failed in the High Court.

Mr. Peter Robinson: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Government had to get a derogation from human rights legislation to continue with this policy?

Mark Durkan: The Government succeeded in getting that derogation and it is not the only derogation that
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there has been. If people want to take the challenge to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, they can. We believe that it would not succeed, just as it did not succeed in the High Court in Northern Ireland. It would be to the benefit of Members to know that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has also declared that 50:50 does not breach human rights legislation. [Interruption.] I am quoting the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.

In relation to the derogation, it needs to be remembered too that the European Union in an employment directive has accepted that 50:50 is an acceptable and proper policy. It understands the context in which the policy is being applied and recognises the other choices that might have been made to achieve a more equal and representative police service. It knows what the aim and purpose are, what the context is and what the compromise choice was.

Dr. McCrea: Does the hon. Gentleman therefore disagree with his colleague the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) that there is some limited discrimination?

Mark Durkan: My hon. Friend justified 50:50, as I do, knowing that it creates some painful instances. A young Protestant would-be recruit in my constituency spoke to me with great emotion and to great effect on the issue. I know that it is difficult and hard. When choosing between a 50:50 policy on top of retaining the thousands of people who were retained from the old RUC, and total disbandment followed by total recruitment on merit, it is not so perverse or cruel to opt for 50:50 as people are suggesting.

It is certainly not leading to one-sided recruitment, or to a police service in which the Catholic community is over-represented. Under the Patten recommendations, the 50:50 approach was expected to mean that, even by 2010 or 2011, only 30 per cent. of the PSNI would be made up by members of the Catholic community. They accept that, which shows a degree of fairness, openness and realism on their part. Moreover, the fact that the Catholic community, in the context of the new beginning to policing, is able to extend acceptance and accessibility to all members of the PSNI, regardless of their community background, is a source of hope and encouragement for us all.

We must also remember that, thanks to the work of the Policing Board, recruitment rates are even higher than recommended by Patten. More Catholics are joining the PSNI than Patten envisaged, but more Protestants are doing so too. We need to look at overall recruitment levels again, and not focus only on what can be achieved under the 50:50 policy.

The Patten recommendations suggested that 340 new recruits, from both the Catholic and Protestant communities, would join the police every year, but the actual recruitment level is higher, having reached as many as 540 in one year. That shows that the chances of joining the police have improved for everyone, including young Protestants. Of course, the critics of 50:50 never admit that there has been a real step change in the numbers of young Protestants being recruited into the police every year.
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The quota is vital to achieving a sense of equal access and acceptability in policing. Reference has been made to what were called the historic or residual factors contributing to the long-standing Catholic under-representation in the old RUC. Whether one puts the so-called "chill factor" down to the perception in the Catholic community that the old RUC was the arm of Unionist state, or to the effects of the GAA's rule 21, it is not surprising that Catholics had little motivation to join the force. The fear factor must also be taken into consideration.

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