Sinn Féin and SDLP call for return of 50:50 PSNI recruitment
Parties respond to new data showing a nationalist resistance to careers in policing
PSNI constable Ronan Kerr’s hat rests on his coffin at his funeral in 2011 after he was targeted and killed by dissidents. File photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire
Sinn Féin and the SDLP have called for a return of 50:50 Catholic/Protestant PSNI recruitment after the latest figures indicate a nationalist resistance to taking on a policing career.
At present 31.5 per cent of the force are Catholic, when a more representative figure based on demographics would be about 45 per cent.
The PSNI is currently going through the process of recruiting 300 new officers. There have been about 7,700 applicants for the posts, according to the PSNI.
But of these, only 31 per cent are from a Catholic background, indicating that the number of Catholics in the PSNI is unlikely to rise in the short term.
One of the acknowledged reasons for the relatively low application rate remains the dissident republican threat and the consequent difficulties Catholics who join the PSNI can face remaining in their home areas.
Constable Peadar Heffron was badly injured in an under-car booby trap bombing near Randalstown, Co Antrim, in 2010.
PSNI deputy chief constable Drew Harris, in an interview with The Irish Times, was critical of Sinn Féin and the SDLP for not doing more to encourage Catholics to join the PSNI.
“I would say this of both nationalist parties that they could have been more vocal in promoting the police service as a career,” he said.
Mr Harris’s comment was described as “grossly unfair” by the SDLP policing spokeswoman Dolores Kelly, who said her party had supported the 1999 report on police reform by former British government minister Chris Patten, which led to the creation of the Police Service of Northern Ireland in 2001.
“The SDLP supported the Patten reforms comprehensively from the outset and took many political and personal risks in doing so,” she said. Sinn Féin endorsed the new service in 2007.
Ms Kelly said the SDLP still called for 50:50 Catholic/Protestant recruitment and previously warned the British government not to end it.
That system was introduced under Patten in 2001 at a time when just 8 per cent of the force were Catholics. It ended in 2011 after 10 years and when representation had reached just under 30 per cent.
Sinn Féin’s policing spokesman Gerry Kelly also called for the reinstatement of 50:50 recruitment.
“The biggest hindrance to nationalist recruitment to the PSNI remains legacy issues and the PSNI covering [up for] the RUC by refusing to disclose information on collusion and delaying and actively hindering disclosure to the courts even in the face of court orders,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ms Kelly of the SDLP said Sinn Féin should advocate for a cadet scheme, recommended in the Patten report but never implemented, to encourage more Catholics to join the PSNI.
Ms Kelly noted the Patten report had said a cadet scheme could only work “if there was active support and encouragement from political and community leaders, churches and teachers”.
Ms Kelly said a cadet scheme could be a means of persuading young Catholics and others to pursue a career in the PSNI. “It should now be given more attention and the notion of police cadets ought now be acceptable to Sinn Féin,” she said.
“Such an initiative also has the potential to enable greater uptake from other underrepresented groups,” she added.