More Irish-speaking PSNI officers are to be recruited for Londonderry, an historic meeting of the Northern Ireland Policing Board has been told.
During the meeting — which was held in Irish — Foyle PSNI Area Commander Chris Yates revealed there were currently 10 officers in the region with Irish-speaking skills and he vowed “we will be increasing that number” in answer to a question from the floor.
Responding to a follow-up question as to whether Irish will be a requirement for joining the PSNI in future, Assistant Chief Constable Judith Gillespie said: “Maybe desirable but not essential.”
It also emerged at the meeting last night in the City Hotel that a team of Gaelic-speaking PSNI officers are currently in training to deliver programmes in Irish schools.
However, ACC Gillespie said that she did not envisage the Irish word for police featuring on the side of PSNI vehicles.
Addressing the packed gathering at the hotel, she described the meeting as a “very important first step”.
“I think its important we learn to toddle before we run on this,” she said.
“I do think there are elements of this community that would not be entirely comfortable with what we are proposing and we want to ensure that by engaging one community we are not disengaging another.”
She said however that PSNI officers wearing pins indicating that they were Irish speakers was something that could be examined and was already being practiced by some members of the force.
She said that this could be extended to all multi-lingual officers.
Earlier, PSNI constables Una McVeigh and Paedar Heffron delivered presentations in Irish on the work of police, with some members of the audience using headphones to listen to a live translation of what was being said.
Constable Heffron said: “There is undoubtedly a challenge |before the PSNI to promote a |career or profession in the PSNI in a community where such a |possibility would have been impossible a few years ago.”
There was a heavy emphasis on recruitment throughout the meeting, with independent Policing Board member and language activist Gearoid O’hEara giving a breakdown of the PSNI’s make-up, showing that at present 26.58% of officers were Catholic compared to 8.3% in September 2001. One in five officers are female.
ACC Gillespie said: “It truly is a historic occasion. If anyone had told me when I joined this organisation in 1982 this would be happening I might not necessarily have believed them.”
The decision on whether future Policing Board meetings will be conducted in the Irish language will be taken at a later date, Debbie Donnelly, deputy chief executive of the Policing Board, said.
PSNI educational officer Dympna Thornton, who also gave a presentation in Irish said that there were 10 officers with a sufficient level of competency in Irish who were currently being trained up to go into schools and deliver the PSNI’s CASE programme, which is specifically designed for children.
She added that given most Irish-speaking schools were in the primary school sector, they have decided to target this area.