Police must be representative
Joining the police service in Northern Ireland has become a much more acceptable option in the past 14 years since the formation of the PSNI and the implementation of the Patten reforms. Previously, because of the Troubles and the historic imbalance in the composition of the RUC, it was a career that dared not speak its name in nationalist areas.
At that time only 8% of the force was from the minority community, but that has now risen to 30%. However, worryingly, in spite of affirmative action over a 10-year period until 2011 that figure has remained rigidly the high point of Catholic representation. In recent recruitment drives only 30% of applicants come from that background.
Part of the reason may be the ongoing dissident republican campaign which has made Catholic officers prime targets for murder attempts. That may explain why so few people from the nationalist-dominated west of the Bann - where dissident activity is most intense - are coming forward to join the police. It is natural that concerns over safety and, hence, pressure from families can deter young Catholics from seeking a PSNI career.
There are hints that positive discrimination - essentially favouring Catholic applicants - may have to be reintroduced to correct the current imbalance in the composition of the force compared to society in general.
That would be a retrograde step, as discrimination in whatever form it takes is still discrimination, and could deter some Protestants from joining.
It would be better if a career in policing was more actively promoted by civic and even Church leaders in nationalist areas in order to reduce the natural concerns some would-be applicants have.
Indeed, given the increasingly multi-cultural make-up of society here it would be heartening to see ethnic minorities considering a career with the PSNI if we want a really representative police force.
Women are another major group which continue to be under-represented. Some are undoubtedly put off by the PSNI's public order role and its attendant dangers that make so many distressing headlines here, and by the lack of female officers at the highest level of the force. But it must be stressed that female officers have specific skills in dealing with women and children which are vital to any police force, and they too must be given greater encouragement to enlist.