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Top officer's 'deep concern' at lack of Catholics signing up for police career in Northern Ireland

By Deborah McAleese

Published 23/10/2015

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton
Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton

A top police officer has admitted he is deeply concerned by the lack of new Catholics officers within the PSNI.

Of 401 new officers recruited to the PSNI since 2013 just 77 were Catholic, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

And only 20% of 915 people currently in the PSNI's merit pool for potential future recruitment are from the Catholic community.

"Of course I am concerned. We are serious when we say the organisation should be representative of the community we serve," Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said.

"We had 50/50 recruitment to address the imbalance. 50/50 has now finished. It would be better to get to the point where we win the community over to accept the role of policing in society," he added.

Earlier this week the Belfast Telegraph revealed that in recent recruitment campaigns less than 30% of those applying to join the PSNI were from a nationalist/republican background.

The struggle to attract Catholics to join the organisation has led to warnings that the reintroduction of the 50/50 policy may have to be considered.

However, it has been claimed that there is very little difference between the percentage of Catholics applying to join the PSNI today and the percentage to apply under the controversial 50/50 policy.

"According to the police, around 34% of current applicants to the PSNI are Catholic. When there was 50/50 the maximum they ever got was 37%. So, in reality, there's practically little or no decrease in the number of Catholics applying. Calls for reintroduction of 50/50 are therefore groundless," said Policing Board member Jonathan Craig.

According to the DUP man, recent police analysis of applicants showed that people with third level qualifications were more likely to apply from the Protestant community than the Catholic community.

"This was a fascinating review that showed remarkable difference in attitudes. People from the Catholic community with third level qualifications do not see policing as a career choice. We need to work to encourage people to see policing as a career," said Mr Craig.

He added: "There is also very clearly an under-representation within the PSNI of young people from working class areas, whether Catholic or Protestant, and we need to address that also."

However, policing expert Dr Jonny Byrne, from Ulster University, said the fact that in 2014 over 76% of PSNI applicants that made the merit pool were from a Protestant background "raises questions about the potential composition of a future policing service under open market candidates".

Dr Byrne warned that in the absence of 50/50 "there are signs that the composition of the organisation is taking a backward step".

He added: "The question of reintroducing 50/50 or finding another approach which addresses the issue is becoming critical."

PSNI recruitment was reopened in 2013 after a three-year jobs freeze. Since then more than 17,000 applications have been received throughout a three-phase competition. The third phase of the recruitment drive closes today.

"I really would encourage people to sign up. There are very few jobs that can offer you 35 years of security and so much variation," ACC Hamilton said.

‘My dad didn’t speak to me for year’

“I am a Catholic from west Belfast and all I have ever wanted to do was join the police. When I applied I didn’t tell anyone as I was afraid of people finding out. I wasn’t thinking about becoming a target for dissidents, I was thinking more about how my family would react.

“When I was recruited I eventually told them. My father and brother didn’t speak to me for about a year and my mother burst into tears. They still can’t accept my choice of career. I guess I don’t really blame them because where I grew up the police were seen as the enemy.

“My family still see the PSNI as being very unionist. It has definitely put strain on our relationship. My grandparents don’t know. They think I work for a security firm. My father told me he would be ashamed to tell them. But I wouldn’t consider any other job. I love my job. One of my first callouts was to a domestic incident. The wife told me we had saved her life.

“There is still very much the mindset in some republican areas that you are a traitor if you join the police. I know my parents worry that I could be a target.”

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