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Attracting Catholics as PSNI support staff could bolster nationalist recruitment, says chief constable

Simon Byrne not in favour of 50/50 recruitment

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Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill and Gerry Kelly with Arlene Foster, PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne and Anne Connolly, chair of the NI Policing Board, at the launch of the PSNI recruitment drive earlier this year

Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill and Gerry Kelly with Arlene Foster, PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne and Anne Connolly, chair of the NI Policing Board, at the launch of the PSNI recruitment drive earlier this year

Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill and Gerry Kelly with Arlene Foster, PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne and Anne Connolly, chair of the NI Policing Board, at the launch of the PSNI recruitment drive earlier this year

Increasing the number of Catholic police officers in the PSNI could be solved by first encouraging people from the community to join the force as civilian staff, chief constable Simon Byrne has said.

In an interview with The Irish News, Mr Byrne said one way of tackling the issue would be to recruit people "into the police family".

"So you could attract somebody quicker for example as a call taker in a contact centre, as police staff they then like the feel of the organisation, realise that there are risks, yes, but then apply to become a police officer.

"So it is looking at all opportunities to make the organisation more accessible", he said.

Catholic officers make up 32% of the PSNI, however this drops to 19% for civilian staff.

Between 2002 and 2009 the proportion of Catholic officers increased from 8% to 30% after 50/50 recruitment was introduced.

Mr Byrne, who is from Surrey, said that he discussed the issue of officer diversity in his interview for the job almost a year ago.

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PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne

PA

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne

"Of course the context is slightly different, but I equate the representation issue here in terms of community background with the issues I had recruiting black officers into London," he said.

In Feburary, Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill and Gerry Kelly attended the launch of the PSNI recruitment campaign for the first time.

This led to threats from dissident republicans to both politicians.

"Recently when we had that event in Garnerville, when Sinn Fein stepped in the room I described it then as 'seismic' and historic I think it was," Mr Byrne said.

"Now that one event in itself does not mean that all our problems are over, and we've got a raft of stuff, things like a safety and secure environment so people don't feel sometimes compelled to hide their occupation.

"Having to take steps everyday about checking routes to work and is there a bomb under the car. These are all issues people take really seriously when they think about joining an organisation like this.

"So it's about development of specialist teams and promotion right through the ranks."

The chief constable said that he has had meetings with senior people from GAA and people from the Catholic church to discuss the issue.

He added: "I came here almost a year ago and I'm still trying to understand the hurt and harm caused during the Troubles.

"Neighbourhood policing is the route to showing we are human beings, we're not biased, we are here just to police all of the country to make every community safe and secure and we're here to protect people."

Mr Byrne said that he was not in favour of a return to 50/50 recruitment but said it would be "foolish to rule it out".

The chief constable apologised after a Christmas day tweet which showed him posing for a photo outside Crossmaglen police station with officers holding rifles.

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Simon Byrne (centre) outside Crossmaglen PSNI station, a picture that he posted on Twitter

Simon Byrne (centre) outside Crossmaglen PSNI station, a picture that he posted on Twitter

Simon Byrne (centre) outside Crossmaglen PSNI station, a picture that he posted on Twitter

He was criticised by some nationalist politicians, saying the image was offensive to the the local community.

In a statement issued at the time, Mr Byrne said his message was "never meant as a comment on the community of Crossmaglen in South Armagh. I am sorry for any offence that has been caused".

Earlier this month is was reported Superintendent Gerry Murray planned to set up a Catholic Police Officers Guild to provide "pastoral care" for Roman Catholics in the PSNI.

Mr Byrne said that formal discussion about the guild have yet to take place but there area other networks in the service.

"That might be Women in Policing network or the network for LGBT officers and staff. So Gerry's proposal would come into that sort of space.

"He has to go through a checking and assurance process. He can't just set one up. And we are going through that at the minute to ensure he meets the policy for doing that.

"So that is as far as our conversation has gone, so I'm not ruling it out but we have to have a formal conversation", he added.

Belfast Telegraph