05 March 2006

Laird and Rooker in 50:50 PSNI row

Belfast Telegraph

By Brian Walker
04 March 2006

The usual Friday afternoon calm of the House of Lords was shattered by an emotional argument between the outspoken Lord Laird and the equally blunt Minister of State Lord Rooker.

The war of words was over the 50:50 quota system for recruitment in the PSNI. Unionist peer Lord Laird said recruitment quotas for equal numbers of Catholics and non-Catholics should be scrapped on the grounds of religious discrimination.

Lord Rooker declared that Lord Laird and his supporters were being negative and exaggerating the impact of 50:50. In eight recruitment competitions since 2001, and a total of 50,000 applicants to the PSNI - 28,000 of them non-Catholic - only 541 (just 2%) were rejected due to the quota system, Lord Rooker said.

In one competition, there were 13,00 applicants for 440 posts. "Rejection was due to the massive number of applications - nothing to do with 50:50". He also noted Catholic recruitment to the force had increased from 8.3% to 19.14% and was due to rise to 30% by 2010/11.

He added that the cost of running the quota system was about £13m or £10,000 per recruit, not the unionist claim of £80m which he didn't recognise.

Sounding increasingly passionate, Lord Rooker went on: "To say that hundreds and thousands are suffering due to 50:50 is not true. I challenge journalists to challenge politicians on the basis of their figures". He added that the 50:50 system would expire next March unless renewed and would not stay in place "a moment longer than was necessary".

"If we scrapped it now, we would not achieve the target of 30% Catholics by 2010/11 but would be likely to see only 22% if we abandoned it now."

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