Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Essential that PSNI is a fully balanced force

Editor's Viewpoint

It is a sign of how seriously the PSNI senior ranks view their inability to attract more Catholics into the force that it is now being suggested that there could be a return to 50/50 recruitment.

Currently around 30% of police officers are Catholic, although that figure falls to just below 20% for police staff.

The 50/50 recruitment policy was introduced after the formation of the PSNI to increase the historically low percentage of Catholics in the police. At the time it was only around 8%, but the new policy proved highly successful in bringing recruitment up to around 32%.

However, the policy was abandoned in 2011 and now numbers are starting to slide back, and only around 20% of new recruits are from the Catholic community.

A not inconsiderable factor in that fall-off has been the threat from dissident republicans, who have been responsible for the deaths or attacks on a number of Catholic officers and also harassing their families in strongholds like Londonderry and Lurgan.

A survey into why fewer Catholics are coming forward to consider a career in the PSNI found that family pressures, the fear of being identified within their own communities, having to give up certain activities, and the inability to travel safely into all areas of the province all played a part in their decision-making.

Temporary Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin has called on people of influence in the nationalist community to promote the PSNI as a good career for young people.

Such a move would be welcomed, not least because it is important that the composition of the police force should reflect the composition of the population at large.

Not only is that the right thing to do but it also sends out an important message that the police is welcomed by society as a whole.

Mr Martin also makes the valid point that if new recruitment methods - including possibly 50/50 recruitment - are not successful, then the force will become unrepresentative of the population, a position that will be used as propaganda by dissident republicans.

Earlier this year a spokesman for the Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, objected to the reintroduction of 50/50 recruitment, arguing that officers should only be selected on merit. Ideally that should be the case, but getting a proper balance in the force is also a pressing imperative.

Belfast Telegraph

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