UK government wants to end 50/50 police recruitment of Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland
The 50/50 recruitment of Catholics and Protestants to the Northern Ireland police should end next year, the government said today.
Unionist politicians have always opposed the measure which was introduced under reforms of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) that was more than 90% Protestant in membership.
But Secretary of State Owen Paterson said the 50/50 recruitment drive, launched alongside the creation of the new-look Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), had created an organisation that was more representative of the region's divided community.
Mr Paterson announced plans to carry out a consultation on the legislation which expires on March 28 2011, but said he was "minded not to renew the provisions".
"The last 10 years have seen significant change in the composition of the PSNI," he said.
"At the time of the Patten report, Catholic composition in the Royal Ulster Constabulary stood at just 8.3%.
"Today, over 29% of serving officers in the PSNI are from a Catholic background.
"This is within the target range set out by Patten and the PSNI is now broadly reflective of the community it serves.
"The provisions have clearly played an important role in getting us to this point, but it was always envisaged that they would be of a temporary nature."
The Patten Commission led by Chris Patten recommended a raft of reforms transforming the RUC. The move came as part of the peace process and was born out of the 1998 Good Friday political deal.
Mr Paterson said: "Northern Ireland has enjoyed significant political stability and normality in recent years.
"The transfer of policing and justice powers to a locally elected minister on 12 April put in place the final piece of the new policing structures envisaged in both the Patten Report and the Belfast Agreement of 1998.
"In this context, and nearly a decade after their introduction, now is the time to consider the future of the temporary provisions.
"These provisions were last consulted on by the previous administration in 2009. In my view the balance of the argument favours letting the provisions lapse in March next year but I will, of course, reflect carefully on the outcome of the consultation.
"It is important that local politicians, community leaders and people all across Northern Ireland ensure that the PSNI remains a representative police service and that everyone who wishes to pursue a career in the PSNI is encouraged to do so."