Despite the PSNI's recent blunders, Archbishop Eamon Martin is right to call on Catholic young people to consider a police career

The Irish News view: Data breach disasters must be addressed to restore confidence

Archbishop Eamon Martin has reiterated his call for young Catholics to consider joining the PSNI
Archbishop Eamon Martin has reiterated his call for young Catholics to consider joining the PSNI Archbishop Eamon Martin has reiterated his call for young Catholics to consider joining the PSNI

There is little doubt that the police data breach which saw information about all PSNI officers and support staff, including their names and stations, is one of the most embarrassing and damaging episodes in the service's history.

It has eroded confidence in the organisation, not only among the public but also among rank and file officers and civilian staff.

Chief Constable Simon Byrne and his senior leadership team have significant questions to answer over just how the spreadsheet containing the sensitive information came to be released in response to a freedom of information request. The Policing Board, which is supposed to oversee the PSNI and has a majority of political members, should also explain how such a failing has happened on its watch.

Emphasising the gravity of the problem is the PSNI's own admission that it is confident that dissident republicans – who continue to target police officers and staff – have access to information which could very well place lives at greater risk and threat. Further personal details of up to 200 officers were also stolen when a car was broken into in Newtownabbey last month.

The unique complexities of Northern Ireland society mean that while all officers and staff will feel at risk following the data breaches, those from a Catholic and nationalist background will feel particularly vulnerable.

Read more:PSNI data breach: Officer drove along M2 with laptop and notebook on roof

Read more:Dissidents have information from data breach, PSNI Chief Constable says

Read more:Jake O'Kane: If Simon Byrne wanted to contribute to the PSNI's future he should have stayed on holiday – permanently

In this context, Archbishop Eamon Martin has made a significant intervention, repeating his longstanding appeal for "young people from the Catholic community" to still consider a career in policing and expressing his "unequivocal support" for all those who serve.

Having spoken with families and relatives of Catholic PSNI members, the Archbishop has directly raised his concerns about the data breach and its implications with the Chief Constable.

The dissidents and the criminals, the gangsters and the paramilitaries who wish to hold back this community may regard the opportunity to get hold of sensitive police information as an opportunity to further their own grubby and violent aims.

But they cannot be allowed to do so. The PSNI has a role to play in seeking to reassure its officers and staff of their safety as it attempts to clean up a mess of its own making, but the public has a responsibility also - to, as Archbishop Martin put it, "reject entirely those who would intimidate or threaten the courageous women and men - including those from the Catholic community - who selflessly choose this noble vocation of policing".

A police service that fully represents the make-up of Northern Ireland should be an essential part of this society as it strives for peace and prosperity.