Leading article

Return of 50:50 PSNI recruitment must be given serious consideration

Seven years after 50:50 PSNI recruitment was abandoned, it is significant that a senior officer has signalled that a return to the policy may have to be considered.

This was a controversial but also effective measure, introduced as part of the Patten reforms of policing in Northern Ireland.

The aim was to make policing more representative of the community it serves and in the years it was in operation, from 2001 and 2011, it certainly made serious progress in that regard.

When it began, Catholic police officers numbered just 8 per cent of the overall strength yet when it finished that figure had risen sharply to around 32 per cent.

Under severe pressure from unionists, then secretary of state Owen Paterson, now a leading Brexiteer, abolished the policy even though it had still some way to go to achieve its target.

The belief that it was halted prematurely has been confirmed by the figures which show that Catholic numbers remain static at 32 per cent, an issue that was analysed by Deloitte last year which found a number of matters of concern.

Some practical issues can be addressed but there is a wider problem in terms of attracting Catholic recruits in sufficient numbers.

With the latest recruitment drive seeking 400 new officers, temporary deputy chief constable Stephen Martin has expressed concern at the low proportion of Catholic recruits.

He said bringing back 50:50 was a political decision but added that any option should not be dismissed if the Catholic rate continued to stall or even fall.

It is quite clear that the proportion of Catholics in the PSNI is a cause for concern and this cannot be ignored.

As Mr Martin pointed out, the police force must be reflective of the community.

It is apparent the 50:50 policy was jettisoned too soon and its restoration must be given active consideration.

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