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50-50 policy could be reintroduced as PSNI battles to attract Catholics

By Deborah McAleese

Published 20/10/2015

Less than 30% of applications to the PSNI are from nationalists
Less than 30% of applications to the PSNI are from nationalists

The PSNI may have to consider reintroduction of the controversial 50-50 recruitment policy as the organisation struggles to attract new Catholic officers.

Police figures show that, worryingly, Catholics are greatly under-represented at recruitment level, with less than 30% of those applying from a nationalist/republican background.

In the first recruitment drive since the end of the 50-50 rule 30% of applicants were Catholics, while 66% were from a Protestant background.

In phase two of the recruitment campaign 29% of applicants were Catholic and 67% Protestant.

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said the PSNI was aware of the imbalance and hoped the third phase of recruitment, which is currently ongoing, will attract more people from a Catholic background.

However, Dr Jonny Byrne from the Ulster University warned that unless the situation improved consideration may have to be given to reintroducing 50-50.

The 50-50 rule operated from 2001 to 2011. It was introduced as part of Patten and meant that half of all officers had to be Catholic.

It was brought to an end in 2011 when the number of officers from a Catholic background rose from 8% to around 30%.

"Although the figures are stark, they still do not equate to the situation pre-Patten and the formation of the PSNI. However, there is an immediate need to explore why Catholics are significantly less likely to apply for a career in the police," said Dr Byrne.

He added: "Is there still a resistance of joining the police because of historical factors? Is the current terrorist threat putting off young Catholic's from applying? Do the family and friendship networks make joining the police a more attractive option for Protestants?

"Are those from the Catholic community struggling to identify with the institution? Or is the main pull factor one were the PSNI is still perceived as a predominantly Protestant organisation with a very unionist tradition. The bottom line is that if the situation does not improve, the discussion about the reintroduction of 50-50 recruitment will be inevitable."

Assistant Chief Constable Hamilton admitted that the PSNI knows it is under-represented from a number of groups and is particularly keen to build on the progress of compositional change.

"We are committed to being truly representative of the community, and as such this competition will focus on seeking applications from the five target audiences which are currently under-represented in PSNI - young people (18-24 years old); females; members of the Catholic community; people in areas of social disadvantage, and people in Fermanagh, Omagh, Tyrone, Maghera and Derry/Londonderry."

Mr Hamilton added: "The PSNI is committed to being truly representative of the community and we aim to work in partnership with elected leaders and community representatives to continue this objective.

"However, it is also equally important to state that we welcome applications from across the community in general, and to clarify that performance will be assessed on merit alone."

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