Belfast Telegraph

PSNI: Return to 50/50 police recruitment may have to be considered

Recent efforts have struggled to sign up enough Catholics, with only one in five successful in merit-based competitions.

A return to 50/50 recruitment of Catholics and Protestants into the PSNI may have to be considered, a senior officer has said.

Recent efforts have struggled to sign up enough Catholics, with only one in five successful in merit-based competitions.

The recruitment process has been significantly shortened in a bid to improve the statistic – 400 more officers are being sought – but temporary deputy chief constable Stephen Martin refused to rule out a return to the Patten-era reform.

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He said: “I would encourage people with influence within the Catholic community to encourage and advocate for people in this community to step forward and apply to join the PSNI.

“If that does not happen and our Catholic success rate were to continue as in the last few campaigns, it would be inevitable that in future years you might start to see the Catholic composition of the organisation fall.

“That would be unacceptable and I think in those circumstances all options would need to be considered.”

The 50/50 mechanism was established to re-balance a force largely comprised of members of one side of the community.

Nationalist politicians viewed it as a success, but unionist politicians claimed it unfairly discriminated against Protestants.

Mr Martin noted that it had delivered a significant increase in Catholic representation, from 8% to 32%.

A report by consultants Deloitte – Understanding Barriers Affecting Police Officer Recruitment – into more recent issues found that the opinion of family and friends sometimes deterred members of the Catholic community from joining.

The report also said many Catholic applicants dropped out of the recruitment process ahead of the initial selection test because they were hiding their application and did not want to attend an examination centre.

Steps to address that include taking the test online.

With the dissident republican threat continuing, Mr Martin said Catholics who joined up were finding they had to stop participating in some “cultural” activities and the ability to travel comfortably into all communities was playing a part in their decision-making.

Around a third of the force is Catholic at present and Mr Martin said bringing back 50/50 was a political decision.

“I don’t think we should be dismissing any option if we started to see the Catholic composition rate continue to stall or indeed fall.”

It is really important that the police force is reflective of the community Temporary deputy chief constable Stephen Martin

He said he was concerned about the low proportion of new recruits.

“That is not good enough.”

He added: “It is really important that the police force is reflective of the community.”

Those Catholics who do apply are being out-performed by Protestants during the recruitment process.

The latest recruitment drive is seeking 400 new officers to replace those who are leaving, to keep the force at around 6,600.

That will represent, by next March, a reduction of 100 officers.

Mr Martin said: “We are reducing because of affordability, not because of operationally thinking it is prudent or appropriate.

“We are doing it because that is what we can afford, I would not want to see the police service fall below that number.

“It would start to create significant challenges for us, it is challenging enough at the minute.”

Press Association

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