Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Catholics need more support to join police

Editor's Viewpoint

It takes courage to be a police officer, but it takes a special kind of courage for a Catholic from what would be regarded as a strongly nationalist or republican background to join the PSNI.

The officer from Londonderry whose story is featured in this newspaper today outlines in stark detail the sacrifices he has had to make to follow his chosen career.

It is indeed wrong that he should have to cut ties with some members of his family because he doesn't want any harm coming to them as a consequence of him being a police officer. However, that is the reality that many Catholic officers from areas like Derry face.

Dissident republicans have recently been targeting the homes of Catholic officers' families in the city with hoax bomb scares.

Indeed, after the formation of the PSNI they killed two Catholic officers, Stephen Carroll and Ronan Kerr, and grievously injured another, Peadar Heffron.

That aped the tactics of the Provisional IRA, which also deliberately targeted Catholic officers. At the height of the Troubles it was little wonder that only 8% of the huge number of officers in the RUC were Catholics.

With the formation of the PSNI and the introduction of a 50/50 recruitment policy, that figure was to rise to 31%, a huge improvement but still well below the 50% that would be representative of the demographic breakdown in the province.

In recent times the PSNI has introduced initiatives to encourage more young men and women from nationalist areas to join the force, including having part of the recruitment process online to prevent them being seen entering police stations at an early stage and making themselves targets.

But, as former senior Catholic officer Peter Sheridan says, there needs to be a wider civic and political response to this problem.

Being a police officer must be presented as a very worthwhile career, one that is vital to the creation and maintenance of a peaceful and inclusive society and which should have the total support of all sections of that society.

Sinn Fein and the SDLP, as the main political voices of republicanism and nationalism, and who have signed up to support policing, must be at the forefront of those encouraging young people from their community to become police officers.

It is a stain on our society that officers still have to deny what they do for a living.

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