Police in Northern Ireland produce plan to get more Catholics into force
Police in Northern Ireland have produced an action plan to tackle the chronic shortage of Catholics joining the force - but have ruled out the reintroduction of 50/50 recruitment.
Recent recruitment drives have struggled to attract new Catholic officers, despite advertising campaigns targeted specifically at the nationalist/republican communities.
Just 31% of those to apply to three recent recruitment drives were from a Catholic background. And only 19% of those to make it through onto the merit pool were Catholic.
One of the region's most senior officers, Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris, said he was optimistic that if political and civic society worked with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), representation levels of Catholics at recruitment could reach 50% within five years.
He ruled out the reintroduction of the controversial 50/50 recruitment policy which operated from 2001 to 2011 and helped to increase the number of Catholic officers from 8% to 31%.
Instead, the PSNI intends to make a number of changes to the recruitment process, reducing the timescale from initial selection test to appointment from 12 months to six months.
Consideration is also being given to alternative entry routes into the PSNI, such as police constable apprenticeship schemes, Mr Harris revealed.
A new recruitment drive is to be launched in the Autumn and an advertising campaign will target "cold spots" across Northern Ireland where it has proven particularly difficult to attract people from the Catholic community, Mr Harris told the Press Association.
An action plan was drawn up by senior police after consulting firm Deloitte carried out research on behalf of the PSNI into the reasons behind the reluctance of Catholics to sign up.
The report by Deloitte - Understanding Barriers Affecting Police Officer Recruitment - found that the opinion of family and friends was a barrier to members of the Catholic community.
It added that "perception the service is not inclusive and legacy perceptions are very strong for individuals from a Catholic community background."
The report also found that many Catholic applicants dropped out of the recruitment process ahead of the initial selection test as many were keeping their application secret and did not want to attend an exam centre with other people in an unfamiliar setting.
In addition the report said the recruitment process was too lengthy and this was leading to a "prolonged 'contemplation' period for applicants". This was therefore adding pressure to Catholic applicants who were more likely to keep their application secret.
In response to the findings, the recruitment process, which includes an initial selection test, assessment centre, and physical fitness exam, will now be reduced from 12 months to six months, said Mr Harris.
The initial selection test will also be carried out online, so that candidates do not have to physically attend.
Mr Harris said while the PSNI is prepared to do all it can to encourage Catholic officers to apply, police "don't hold the levers that will change that 30% to 50%."
"We need strong visible and verbal support for policing which is demonstrated by a wide spectrum of society, be it politicians and other civic leaders. We don't have that at the moment," he said.
Mr Harris warned that by not getting a representative pool of candidates at the start of a recruitment process "we are missing out on really good people".
"We have to be out there promoting our work place as somewhere that is good to work, has advancement, good remuneration and good career prospects."
The PSNI is also considering the benefits of introducing an apprenticeship scheme as an alternative entry to the rank of constable.
Mr Harris said this would not only help address Catholic under-representation, but would also attract more young people and women to apply.