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Justice Minister Naomi Long would 'consider' return of 50/50 policing

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Justice Minister Naomi Long

Justice Minister Naomi Long

Kevin Scott

Justice Minister Naomi Long

Justice Minister Naomi Long has said she is willing to consider the controversial policy of 50/50 recruitment to encourage more Catholic officers to join the force.

Mrs Long's comments come as the PSNI opens a recruitment campaign on Tuesday in a bid to hire 600 trainees in the course of this year.

The force is aiming to attract more Catholic officers, as well as more women and people from ethnic backgrounds.

Mrs Long, speaking on the BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show, said it was important the police force was as representative of the community as possible but said there were barriers to Catholic officers joining.

"If we don't get the kind of diversity that we are hoping for we need to look at what the barriers are," she said.

"If there are barriers to coming forward we need to tackle those. It is not enough to simply dip into a very unbalanced pool and try to draw from that."

Asked whether she is considering reintroducing 50/50 recruitment, the Justice Minister said: "I have said before I will take it under consideration at the point at where it comes.

"I believe it is a fairly blunt tool when it comes to trying to create diversity in the work place, but it is one that is there to be used in circumstances were nothing else works.

"I am willing to take advice and listen to the arguments on all sides when it comes to that point. For now the focus should not be on the negatives that we don't get a diverse range of candidates, it should be on encouraging a diverse range of people to come forward."

Mrs Long said that one of the barriers to Catholic officers joining the force was intimidation and the threat level from dissident republicans and other paramilitary organisations.

"The problem is not just about recruitment, it is also about retention, it is about support in the community, so that people who join the police service feel that they can continue to live in their community and be part of the community when they are members of the police service," she added.

DUP MLA Mervy Storey, who sits on the Policing Board, told Good Morning Ulster that he does not support the return of the practice.

"It is institutionalised sectarian discrimination and nationalists have rejected discrimination in the past and wanted equality and wanted parity and now they can't have it both ways," he said.

The 50/50 recruitment policy ran for the first 10 years of the PSNI after it replaced the RUC.

This meant that 50% of all recruits had to be from a Catholic background, and 50% from a Protestant or other background.

This saw numbers of Catholic police officers rise from 8% to 32%. However, this has stalled since the policy was ended.

SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly, who also sits on the Policing Board, said a return to 50/50 recruitment would enhance the PSNI and increase confidence in policing in Northern Ireland.

“We acknowledge that it’s (50/50 recruitment) a crude instrument but it has been undeniably effective in enhancing the makeup of the PSNI, making the service more reflective of the society we live in," she said.

"That objective, in our view, more than justifies a return to 50-50.

“But we also have to recognise that as well as changing policing to reflect our society, we have to shape a society that embraces the PSNI. Our vision is of a community where people can talk openly about policing and about their pride in family members who choose to serve in the PSNI."

Mrs Kelly added that dealing with the threat from dissident republicans to police officers is key to encouraging more Catholic officers to join.

"I understand the fear of parents who worry that their child will be murdered by cowards in balaclavas simply for serving their community," she said.

"And I understand the fear of young officers who worry that they’ll have to leave home to protect family members. No one should face that choice."

Belfast Telegraph