Another chapter in policing begins
Catholics made up just over 8% of the RUC; today Catholics account for almost 30% of the new PSNI. That huge increase in membership of the force from a section of the population which never was properly represented in the police service - for a variety of reasons - was made possible by the introduction of positive discrimination in favour of Catholics in the recruitment process.
That 50-50 recruitment criterion is now to be discarded as the Secretary of State feels it is no longer required. He can point to the fact that all sections of the nationalist community now back the police and sit on the Policing Board and that policing powers have been devolved to the power-sharing administration at Stormont. There is a new consensus on policing in Northern Ireland with the force having unparalleled levels of support throughout the two communities.
However nationalist politicians still feel that abandoning 50-50 recruitment now is premature. While they are right to point out that Catholic representation on the force is well below its representation in society at large, there is nothing to prevent Catholics applying for, and obtaining, posts within the PSNI. Given the greater educational achievement among young Catholic men, they may well be in pole position when applying for posts.
Of course the threat of dissident republican attacks may dissuade some young Catholics from joining the police, but any impact would apply whether the present recruitment process is in place or not. The biggest barrier to recruitment - both of Catholics or Protestants - is the financial constraints on the force due to public spending cuts. It would be a great irony if lack of money rather than lack of ambition was to curtail more Catholics joining the force and making it truly representative environment.