Targets in the Troubles, now victims of the peace
They ran the same risks as their police and Army colleagues during the dark days of the Troubles. But now members of the PSNI full-time reserve face an uncertain future. Alan Murray reports
Unemployed, unemployable and on the scrapheap before their 50th birthdays: that's the grim prospect facing scores of remaining members of the full-time police reserve.
More than 200 officers will be laid off before the end of the month. After that, they can avail of a retraining programme for nine months, but come December 31, men who have given years of service to the police and the community will fall upon the mercy of the bleak New Year job market. Many of them are angry with the Chief Constable, the Policing Board and politicians for - as they see it - abandoning them.
'Dave' and 'Bob' (not their real names) will miss out on receiving a modest monthly pension by just 16 days and 11 days respectively because they won't reach the age of 50 until after December 31 when they formally leave the PSNI.
"I will receive a computation amount in January which will be not much more than a year's salary after tax is deducted and I'll have to live on that for the foreseeable future," said Dave.
"I have absolutely no job prospects because nobody wants to employ someone who has spent over 25 years working for the security forces. I'm a target and nobody wants me about the place."
Bob, too, feels aggrieved. Many years ago he moved from the area where his family lives because of threats and won't contemplate moving back there to try to find work.
"There probably isn't work there anyway, but I couldn't take the risk of being identified and targeted. I mightn't get shot, but I would be intimidated - as I was before," he said.
"What am I supposed to do for the next 10 years before I can receive some sort of small service pension? How am I going to pay the bills?"
Another departing full-time reservist misses completing 25 years' service by just 17 days. He, too, will lose out on a pension for a decade.
There is a general feeling of betrayal among this earnest group of middle-aged men as they dissect the conundrum surrounding their enforced departures from the PSNI.
"Our jobs are still there, but we are not being allowed to do them," said 'Brian', who was petrol-bombed from his home in a loyalist area more than a decade ago.
"It's not as if there isn't a job to do. They're putting probationary constables into sangars to do the jobs we do right now in preparation for our departure. An eight-man squad has been formed to guard the Mahon Road base [in Portadown] when we go - there is no defensible rationale behind this decision.
"Constables will be paid overtime to do the jobs we are doing and manpower will be pulled off the streets. Can any politician explain to me how that makes economic or security sense?"
The men estimate that 89 full-time reserve officers will finally sever their links with the PSNI on December 31 without any pension provision - unlike former RUC and RIR colleagues.
Another officer said: "If we were allowed to buy back pension years - as others did - we could creep into the pension net like many who left before us in other branches of the security services. Even men who have more than 25 years' service who are under 50 lose out on a pension. How can that be fair?
"We have asked Matt Baggott to meet us, but he has said no. They're simply pushing us out and they don't care.
"We'll be unemployed and unemployable come next January and on the scrapheap, but nobody cares."
One retiring officer cited the case of two friends in the full-time reserve who applied to join the Civil Nuclear Constabulary in England, but were told bluntly that the PSNI full-time reserve was not recognised as a police force.
He said: "The Patten Report said that we should be assisted to transfer to other police forces, but that assistance has never materialised. Recommendation 97 of Patten says that the rank of chief superintendent should be phased out, but it hasn't been.
"There was a competition held recently for that rank which shows that the big jobs with the big salaries and the big pensions are still protected while those of us on the bottom rung are being thrown on the scrapheap."
The overall message from the group is that even tiny adjustments could have eased their plight, but no one was prepared to do anything for them.
"We have been denied being allowed to complete 30 years' service, like any other police officer; we've been denied the opportunity to buy back pension years; we've been denied the opportunity to serve, in some cases, for a matter of three weeks or even two weeks next January so we can leave after our 50th birthdays," said Bill.
"What does that tell you about how our service and our sacrifice is rated? Not very highly by those who said they would look after our interests."