Northern Ireland’s police force is understaffed by 168 officers, Theresa Villiers has said.
The Northern Ireland Secretary said the PSNI currently has 6,795 officers but chief constable Matt Baggott recently told her 6,963 are needed for it to perform effectively.
Ms Villiers said she was optimistic the shortfall can be dealt with.
During Northern Ireland questions in the Commons, she said: “The current number of officers in the PSNI is around 6,795. The chief constable recently told the policing board that the minimum number he needs to perform effectively is 6,963.
“It is important that consideration is given to how this shortfall can be dealt with and as I have said I remain optimistic about the discussions which are ongoing between the Department of Finance and Personnel and the Department of Justice on resolving that budgetary shortfall”.
But former Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain said Ms Villiers could not justify her comments because the security budget for PSNI has been halved.
He said: “How can you possibly justify the answer just given to my honourable friend when the additional security budget which the PSNI is entitled to apply for has actually been halved this year compared to what it’s been the last three years, at a time of rising dissident threats as we saw in Belfast city centre before Christmas?”
Ms Villiers replied: “It’s just not true to say that it’s been halved. The Government takes its responsibilities in relation to security in Northern Ireland very seriously. That’s why we’ve provided additional funds for the PSNI to deal with the deteriorating security situation which we inherited from the previous government. We will continue to be vigilant, in particular we will continue to work closely with Irish counterparts on how we can deepen and strengthen the cross-border co-operation which is so crucial to keeping Northern Ireland safe and secure.”