Northern Ireland news

50:50 recruitment alone would not stop declining numbers of Catholic recruits says senior police commander Mark Hamilton

Deputy Chief Constable Mark Hamilton. Picture by Hugh Russell

REINTRODUCING a 50:50 recruitment policy for the PSNI would not in itself address the declining numbers of Catholic recruits, a senior police commander has said.

Deputy Chief Constable Mark Hamilton was speaking as the PSNI launched a fresh recruitment campaign to coincide with 20 years since it replaced the RUC.

He said at least another decade of "hard work" was needed before the PSNI would accurately reflect the regional community breakdown.

Over the past two decades the proportion of Catholic officers has risen from 8 per cent to 32 per cent, largely as a consequence of 50:50 recruitment, a measure that for 10 years ensured that an equal number of Protestants and Catholics were hired.

However, the number of Catholic recruits has started to fall, with less than a quarter of last year's recruits – 24 per cent – coming from the Catholic community.

Mr Hamilton said work was needed to reverse the recent trend.

He said efforts to "normalise" society in the north were stalling.

"The more we can collectively remove the barriers to this then the better but I do think we're probably looking at another 10 years of hard work at this at least," he said

Mr Hamilton said the police's role in investigating legacy crimes linked to the Troubles was a major factor in dissuading people from the nationalist community from joining the PSNI.

He said the ongoing threat from dissident republicans was another.

Sinn Féin MLA and Policing Board member Gerry Kelly agreed that "legacy is the biggest issue for the PSNI".

"If Sinn Féin came out tomorrow and said 'everybody join the PSNI' that wouldn't make a difference because people make up their own minds," he said.

"If the PSNI continue to deal with legacy the way they are dealing with it now, then there is an ongoing problem."

SDLP MLA and Policing Board member Dolores Kelly said it was a "matter of great regret" that 50:50 recruitment had stopped.

She said her party had always urged nationalists to join the PSNI but said that without action the number of Catholic recruits was "likely to fall".

"Despite attempts from some narrow minded elements in our communities to dissuade Catholics from considering a career in policing it is a vocation to be proud of," she said.

"Police officers perform a vital role in our society, they protect the public and keep our communities safe, often placing themselves at great risk."

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Northern Ireland news