PSNI numbers at 'dangerous level' and 50/50 recruitment should return, says ex-chief Orde
A former PSNI chief constable has warned officer numbers are at a "dangerous level" as the organisation faces an escalation in dissident republican attacks.
Sir Hugh Orde also told the BBC the PSNI should consider re-introducing the controversial 50/50 recruitment policy in a bid to increase Catholic numbers among the ranks.
Police numbers are 800 below what was suggested when the PSNI replaced the RUC in 2001.
The current chief constable, Simon Byrne, has called for funds to increase police numbers to 7,500.
Sir Hugh said: "When I took over, I had well over 9,000 police officers and a full-time reserve, which also had to be disbanded under one of the many Patten reforms.
"And that was done very effectively I would argue. I think to drop below 7,500 is dangerous. I would have fought tooth and nail to prevent that, as I know the chief officers did.
"But austerity struck Northern Ireland in a rather unthinking way.
"The threat in Northern Ireland has never gone away. End games in terrorism by definition, are messy.
"We had in my time Continuity IRA, Real IRA, Oglaigh nahEireann, all determined to destroy what had been achieved."
Sir Hugh said republican terrorists had failed because of the work of the PSNI and communities in Northern Ireland that did not want to go back to the violence of the past.
He added: "But the threat is still there. And with the current politics and the complexity of Brexit being woven into that, I think there's a real risk that the threat will increase and I am not persuaded the number they currently have is sufficient."
In September 1999, the report of the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland, led by Lord Patten, called for major reforms and the beginning of the end of the RUC.
During Sir Hugh's leadership of the PSNI between 2002 and 2009 there was legislation which helped take the proportion of Catholics in the police from 8% to 30%.
This legislation ended in 2011 and Catholic's currently make up 32% of the PSNI.
Mr Byrne has said he is not in favour of reintroducing 50/50 recruitment.
A new PSNI recruitment drive will be launched in January.
Belfast Telegraph Digital