Commenting, Ms Bunting said:
‘‘The commitment to 7,500 full-time police officers was the result of political agreement. It was not a mere aspiration. Accordingly, there is an obligation on all ministers to ensure it is implemented in good faith.
It is also the case that the NDNA commitments should be interlocking. There can be no cherry-picking. Some parties prioritise pet projects that will make little tangible difference to the lives of working people or the most vulnerable. A stronger and more visible police service is something that will benefit every community in Northern Ireland.
The Justice Minister must take ultimate responsibility for the failure to deliver the uplift in police numbers. The fact that current budget talks are focusing on damage limitation, rather than any expansion of the workforce, is reprehensible.
If the police service cannot even retain its current headcount, this will inevitably impact on the level of service that can be provided. The Chief Constable would be faced with the unenviable prospect of having to curtail investigations into serious and organised crime to protect neighbourhood policing.
Such a situation must be avoided. It is critical that there is a step change from the Ministers of Finance and Justice. Recurrent funding must be made available to place existing officer numbers on a stable footing. This should be accompanied by a clear timetable to reach to the NDNA commitment of 7,500.’’