Not GAA’s job to act as recruiting sergeant for PSNI – Brian Feeney

Micheál Martin is wide of the mark in suggesting the GAA should do more to support Catholic recruitment to the PSNI

Brian Feeney

Brian Feeney

Historian and political commentator Brian Feeney has been a columnist with The Irish News for three decades. He is a former SDLP councillor in Belfast and co-author of the award-winning book Lost Lives

First Minister Michelle O'Neill  and Gerry Kelly during the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s attestation ceremony for six newly qualified officers at Garnerville Police College  on Friday.
Sinn Féin attended a PSNI graduation ceremony for the first time.
First Minister Michelle O'Neill and Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly attended a PSNI graduation ceremony for the first time at Garnerville Police College last month. Picture: COLM LENAGHAN

Micheál Martin’s Irish News interview last week was wide of the mark about the north in a number of respects but his observations on policing were simplistic and one-sided.

His suggestion that “the GAA can do more there [about Catholic recruitment to the PSNI]; the GAA should be in lockstep to support Catholics going into the PSNI” caused particular resentment. The British government could ‘do more there’ and so could the PSNI, but we’ll come back to that.

Apparently the suggestion was put to Martin in a meeting with Supt Gerry Murray, chair of the Catholic Police Guild. There’s a fallacy at the heart of this notion which is simply this: that practising Catholics are synonymous with cultural Catholics, that is those born to Catholic parents. They’re not. In fact if church attendance is anything to go by, so-called cultural Catholics vastly outnumber practising ones, with regular Mass-going by under-40s running at something like 10%. The fallacy, reinforced by the title, Catholic Police Guild, also contains within it the implication that joining the PSNI has something to do with religion which of course is nonsense.

Tanaiste Micheál Martin speaks to The Irish News in Belfast.
Tánaiste Micheál Martin speaking to The Irish News in Belfast. PICTURE: COLM LENAGHAN

The reluctance to join the police is a mixture of political and cultural outlook, including the lack of legitimacy of the north, which must be addressed. That reluctance has been reinforced if not actually vindicated by the behaviour of the PSNI in withholding, denying and/or delaying information in inquests and court cases involving alleged collusion. Not only that: in some instances where disclosure has been successfully argued in court, the PSNI has appealed against it at great expense to the public purse. Why? If the PSNI wants to present itself as a new police service, why spend so much time and money trying to prevent exposure of RUC wrongdoing?

These tactics of deny, delay, appeal, redact have become so much more obvious in recent months by the approaching May 1 deadline of the nefarious, deplorable Legacy Act, predictably found on Wednesday to breach the ECHR. So obvious that in the House of Lords, former northern secretary Peter Hain objected that “state bodies appear to be openly running down the clock to May 1” and accused officials of “an abject failure to produce the necessary files in anything like a timely fashion despite the relevant state bodies being directed to do so”.

Daily Telegraph free speech fight
Former Secretary of State Peter Hain, now Lord Hain

Former Police Ombudsman Baroness Nuala O’Loan agreed and added: “What is happening in Northern Ireland is outrageous at the moment and causes huge distress to victims.” Does Micheál Martin think maybe this sort of carry on would encourage anyone with doubts about the legitimacy of the northern polity to join up to police it?

In any case, it’s not the function of the GAA to act as recruiting sergeant for the PSNI. By all means allow PSNI officers to make presentations to members if they ask, but as potential recruits, not as Catholics. That’s patronising nonsense.

Even so, they’re not likely to have much success. The present Conservative government has done so much damage by long ago abandoning its obligation to act with ‘rigorous impartiality’ in its administration here.

In the past the PSNI has advertised for new recruits in the programme of the All-Ireland football final. PICTURE: HUGH RUSSELL
In the past the PSNI has advertised for the new recruits in the programme of the All-Ireland football final. PICTURE: HUGH RUSSELL

The first and most harmful blow was ending 50-50 recruitment to the PSNI to please the DUP. Almost immediately Catholic numbers stopped growing and have remained stalled at about 31% – in reality 26%, because that’s the number of locally-born cultural Catholics in the force; the other five per cent are from Britain or other countries. To combat the lack of senior role models there should be secondment from the Garda as Patten anticipated. There’s movement from north to south but not the reverse. Ever wonder why?

The reluctance to join the police is a mixture of political and cultural outlook, including the lack of legitimacy of the north, which must be addressed

There has to be cultural change within the PSNI. An end to hostility to the Police Ombudsman’s office, the withholding of intelligence material – the Seán Brown case being the most recent egregious example, the denial of endemic collusion to the very end of the Troubles; Brown’s murder was in 1997. There is also evidence of sectarian banter and bullying of Catholic officers neither acknowledged, confronted nor dealt with by police management.

None of this is to deny the PSNI has made strenuous efforts to recruit Catholics, now an overwhelming majority in the 18-30 age group, but the ball is in the British government’s court, not the GAA’s.