A three-year-long, £1m programme aimed at making counselling sessions more available to police officers has been announced.
The Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI) said that the money is already in place and it is ready to start spending it very soon, with the hope that at some point in the next few years the Department of Justice will step in to provide the funding itself.
As well as unveiling the fund, the chairman of the Federation also used a speech to colleagues to remember the policemen killed in the Easter Rising, and to condemn dissidents who believe themselves to be the “successors” of the 1916 rebels.
The money in the Psychological Wellbeing Fund will be used to pay for therapy and councilling sessions, using professionals from the private or charitable sector.
The PFNI has just over 6,500 members (the vast majority of which are serving members), and the cash is coming from their subscriptions to the federation.
PFNI chairman Mark Lindsay, in a speech to the body’s annual conference, cited a litany of figures to illustrate the pressures faced by officers (see below).
He said on Wednesday: “Many [officers] suffer from PTSD, anxiety, depression and other stress related illnesses.
“Occupational health professionals try to manage a difficult situation but they lack the resources to deliver a proper service. Care and treatment are not sufficiently funded. The result is that care is not what it should be, and treatment is often too little, far too late.”
He said the official resources available to deal with the problem were “pitiful”.
Mr Lindsay also said: “Now, none of you here today will have escaped the fact that this is the centenary year of the Easter Rising.
“I don’t propose to deliver a history lesson. But today, we remember Constable William O’Brien of the unarmed Dublin Metropolitan Police who was shot dead at the gates of Dublin Castle – the first police casualty.
“In total, seventeen police officers were killed during the rising, drawn from both the Dublin Metropolitan Police and the Royal Irish Constabulary.
“We don’t hear a lot about these men, but here today, this association salutes and honours their memory.
“One hundred years on, for some people, certain things haven’t changed.
“I refer to the ongoing threat posed by dissident republicans who mistakenly believe they are the successors to Pearse or Connolly.”
He said they were “relentless in their pursuit of misery”.
Justice Minister Claire Sugden (independent unionist MLA for East Londonderry) also addressed the conference.
Claire Sugden today addressed the 44th Police Federation for Northern Ireland Annual Conference.
She said the Northern Ireland Executive – made up of her, the DUP and Sinn Fein – are committed to having a “safe community where we respect the law, and each other.”
She added that: “My Department will take the lead in striving for this outcome; however, everyone in society has a part to play in achieving it.
“Collaborative working between departments and the voluntary, community and private sectors will be essential if we are to succeed in reducing crime, increasing the effectiveness of the justice system and reducing offending.”
‘Thousands of officers injured’:
In the chairman’s speech, he said that 2,126 officers had suffered some kind of injury during 2015, and that “in the past six months alone, another 1,000 have been injured”.
Mark Lindsay also said that 13 per cent of the whole workforce are “actively seeking alternative employment”.
Last year “37,674 days were lost because of psychological illnesses” – an increase of just under 60 per cent on 2013 levels.
The PSNI is “currently sitting in the region of 600 officers short of the minimum peacetime requirement” as set out in the 1999 Patten report, he added.