Police chiefs in Northern Ireland today urged the British government to resist any political attempts to axe their full-time reserves.
With 1,600 members facing redundancy, senior officers told Secretary of State Paul Murphy they were performing crucial jobs patrolling the streets.
Rank-and-file policemen and women have already accused the nationalist SDLP of plotting to get rid of the unit, whose disbandment was included in the Patten blueprint for reforming the force.
Their fears were echoed by the Superintendents Association which raised the “plight” of the full-time reserves at its annual general meeting near Antrim.
Northern Ireland Chief Constable Hugh Orde is due to deliver a crucial assessment of the security situation in the autumn, which will decide whether to begin phasing them out from April next year.
Chief Superintendent Stephen Grange, president of the Association, said the decision was causing concern throughout the service.
As Mr Murphy listened, he said: “The decision on the FTR should be one that is based on the security situation and on providing efficient and effective policing to the communities of Northern Ireland and not a political decision.
“We would ask for government reassurance in this matter.”
Unionists opposed to the plans insist scrapping the reserves would leave the police service engulfed in an operational crisis.
But nationalists have argued the move is necessary, adding that many of those whose jobs are under threat want to go.
The call for the unit’s fate to be decided on security grounds was included in a wide-ranging speech which also challenged the authorities to finalise its long- awaited review of public administration in Northern Ireland.
Mr Orde has already proposed cutting local councils from 26 to at low as 12 so he can reduce his district command units accordingly.
Stormont Minister Ian Pearson has gone even further though, setting out plans which would see the number slashed to single figures.
With some units considered too small to function properly, Mr Grange insisted the outcome of the review was needed urgently.
“In the current structure there are some police districts which appear too small to be viable, efficient and effective entities,” he said.
“Therefore the association would urge the government to pursue with vigour the Public Administration Review to set out the proposed local council arrangements and so help us decide the best way to deliver efficient and effective policing.”