Security helpline gets 174 calls from worried reservists
More than 170 former police officers have contacted an emergency help service set up after an administrative error potentially compromised their security, the Assembly has been told.
Some of those ex-members of the RUC's Part-Time Reserve may be considered for a relocation scheme if police substantiate that their safety is at risk, Justice Minister David Ford said.
The security breach occurred when former officers were mailed a payment in an envelope with a clear window — potentially identifying them as terrorist target.
Mr Ford revealed the number of officers who had come forward as he responded to an emergency Assembly debate on the foul-up.
“In terms of those who have raised concerns to date, 156 people have called the telephone helpline, nine people have emailed and nine people have written to the department,” he said.
The £20m gratuity fund was made available by the Treasury to make the one-off payment to officers in the now-defunct reserve in recognition of their service during the Troubles.
Mr Ford said police would conduct individual assessments of the security risk posed as a result of the breach.
But he stressed that most people who contacted the help service had concerns about their security in the past, with only a small minority raising fears about their current situation.
“I must say that the vast majority of those 160 or so have raised concerns relating to issues in the past and relatively few have raised any concerns relating to issues of today and I fully appreciate that does not lessen the anxiety that many (Assembly) Members have expressed today as felt by some of those reservists,” said Mr Ford.
The debate was tabled by UUP MLA Ross Hussey, who said that reservists “feel they have been treated with contempt by the Department of Justice and by Her Majesty's Government and a grovelling apology to this house will not be sufficient to satisfy the upset this farcical set of circumstances has created”.
Mr Ford noted that the arm’s-length Government body, the Northern Ireland Police Fund, administered the dispatch.
Other criticisms were aired in the debate, including the Treasury's decision to tax the payment and the fact that some missed out because they were unaware of it and the application deadline.
An Assembly motion calling for the minister to take action on the tax issue and security breach was passed despite Sinn Fein opposition, which made clear it opposed the gratuity scheme.
A telephone line and email facility were put in place after 6,000 former reservists had their past service potentially exposed when they were sent a gratuity payment in envelopes with a clear window. The documentation visible through the envelopes in some instances outlined the individuals' past membership of the security forces.