The Police Federation will back an extension of the controversial 50-50 recruitment drive if it means the PSNI getting more officers to fight the growing terrorist threat.
And chairman Terry Spence added that an extra 1,000 new police recruits are needed as a countermeasure to dissident republican activity.
His comments come following a deluge of violence since the start of 2010, including bomb and gun attacks, as well as serious, costly rioting.
Speaking at the Federation’s Annual Conference in the La Mon House Hotel in Co Down, Mr Spence told the audience, which included Justice Minister David Ford, that the police force was almost at breaking point.
"Minister, let me leave you in no doubt: we are rapidly approaching a stage which can either become the point of no return, or the opportunity to be seized which will end a terrorist campaign before it gets fully under way," he said.
"The PSNI needs at least another 1,000 officers to end terrorism.
“Two hundred could come from the existing police Full Time Reserve and a further 800 through current recruitment procedures."
By that he meant the 50-50 recruitment process, which was brought in to help increase the number of Catholics in the PSNI.
The policy, which was due to end in 2011, has always been bitterly opposed by unionist parties here, and the Federation’s apparent support for it is unlikely to appease them.
The body that represents rank and file police officers also made clear yesterday that it believes PSNI chief Matt Baggott now comprehends the full extent of the terrorist threat.
But Mr Spence appeared to launch a thinly veiled attack on Mr Baggott’s predeccessor Sir Hugh Orde as he highlighted the danger posed by paramilitaries of all hues.
“Those who have come to serve in Northern Ireland should recognise the centuries-old nature of the divisions which plague our
communities,” said Mr Spence.
“Those divisions remain deep-seated.”
There have been more than 90 terrorist incidents since the beginning of the year, according to the head of the federation.
Yet the conference heard that Stormont ministers were |“deluded” about the gravity of the threat and persisted in running down the full-time reserve, dismantling the intelligence networks and defortifying barracks.
Mr Spence referred to “hasty” and “costly” decisions that were taken “by people dazzled with the excitement of devolution”.
He added: “They were determined to see a new horizon of peace.
“Where they saw peace, most of us who have lived and policed here saw only an illusion and tried to tell them so, but to our cost, they claimed to know better.”
In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph last month, the Chief Constable told Justice Minister David Ford that the PSNI will not be able to operate effectively if forced to make budget cuts of more than £1m a week over the next four years.
Policing and justice powers were devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly in April, with Mr Ford subsequently appointed the first Justice Minister.