Brian Feeney: Nationalist silence on PSNI recruitment is a disgrace
YOU might wonder what republican and nationalist representatives on the Policing Board are for.
A few years ago it emerged they had been asleep at the wheel while the PSNI operated a revolving door policy of recruiting through an agency former RUC personnel, many of whom had trousered huge redundancy payments.
Many of them were given sensitive back office work which could have involved investigating former colleagues or blocking investigation.
Those representatives haven’t been much help to Dr Michael Maguire the Police Ombudsman when he faced obstruction by the PSNI especially in the provision of evidential documents. He had to sue the previous chief constable to obtain certain documents.
They have been worryingly silent on the current low levels of Catholic recruitment after the three year recruitment freeze ended a couple of years ago. In the tranche of recruits in 2015 only 77 of the 400 new police were Catholic.
Around the same time as that figure was revealed in September 2015 the PSNI committed an equally revealing PR gaffe when they said they were very anxious to recruit more women and ‘people from west of the Bann’.
Wrong: the priority is to recruit more Catholics and guess what? Women can be Catholics too.
One of the basic principles of the Patten report was that the PSNI should ensure that its composition was not dissimilar to the society which they police.
After the idiotic decision by Owen Paterson under unionist pressure to abolish 50-50 recruitment Catholic take-up has fallen consistently.
The Catholic total in the PSNI is now stuck at 30 per cent compared to the Catholic percentage of the population now around 46 per cent and growing.
There’s another vital aspect that’s often overlooked. Well in fact always overlooked by nationalist representatives on the Policing Board.
How many Catholics are in senior command and management positions in the PSNI?
Last year’s complaints about lack of women recruits came at a time when the most senior woman in the police, the deputy chief constable, was retiring.
It was commented that there were only two women chief superintendents in the PSNI.
No one, certainly not on the Policing Board, regretted the tiny number of Catholics in senior positions.
Here are the figures. According to the PSNI monitoring of the religious breakdown supplied to the Equality Commission there are 506 people of the rank of inspector and above.
Of those 92, or 18 per cent are Catholic, 396 or 78 per cent Protestant. Taking the total police service, full and part-time, which is 7,221,7 per cent are inspector or above yet only 1.2 per cent of the total are Catholic.
Eight per cent of Protestants in the police are inspectors or above but only 4 per cent of Catholics. Not good is it?
Now you can understand how this has come about. After all, most of those in senior ranks will have been serving in the RUC or some other force for more than the sixteen years the PSNI has been in existence.
Nevertheless what, if any, action plan is there to accelerate Catholic officers to make up the shortfall in higher ranks?
For women there is a gender action plan ‘to ensure their progress in regard to female career development’.
Given the evidence that Catholics are less likely to apply to join the police, are less likely to be successful in their application and more likely to leave early, this imbalance is certain to persist well into the future.
Unless there’s a radical change to recruiting policy, in 10 years time when there’s a nationalist voting majority we’ll arrive at the bizarre situation where the Protestant minority is in a substantial majority at all levels in the police.
At present it is arithmetically impossible for the situation to change.
The silence among nationalist and republican representatives about the recruiting crisis, for that’s what it is, is a disgrace.
It seems that because they have invested so much political capital in supporting the police they feel they can’t criticise its functioning however unsatisfactory.
This failure to hold the PSNI to account, and not simply about the egregious religious imbalance, is particularly acute in the case of Sinn Féin which has most to lose as they sit there demonstrating that the Policing Board is a paper tiger.