The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland Dr Eamon Martin has called for the reinstatement of 50-50 recruitment for the PSNI after revealing that less than a third of officers are from a Catholic background.
Dr Martin was speaking in an interview with the Irish Catholic newspaper after meeting PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne alongside other church leaders recently.
His call comes two decades on from when the recommendations of Chris Patten to reform policing here in the aftermath of the peace process were revealed. Following on from the Patten Report, temporary provisions were introduced in 2001, at a time when Catholics made up just over 8% of the RUC. The special arrangements on recruiting ended after a decade, and Catholics currently account for around 32% of the PSNI - less than one on three officers.
Archbishop Martin has told the Irish Catholic that a return to 50:50 recruitment is needed to halt declining numbers in terms of Catholic officers, as he called for Catholic communities to support those considering joining the profession.
He said: “Because Patten’s target of moving towards a police service that is representative of the society that it polices, I feel that in recent years it has reached a bit of a plateau and I would be concerned about that.”
Previous attacks by dissident Republicans on Catholic PSNI officers and their relatives is understood to have deterred nationalist and Catholics from considering joinging the PSNI.
Archbishop Martin said the current figures were “almost 20% short of the percentage of young Catholics who are out there, if you think of that age group of young people in NI, almost 50% of those young people are Catholic’.
“I think it should be a matter of concern – not just for Catholic communities, but for the whole community, because if we do not have a police service which is representative of the society that it polices you begin to run into accusations that the police service is not friendly to Catholic people, or you allow a vacuum to be created which allows others to exploit intimidation and fear in communities”.
“I think that if Patten’s criteria were applied today I think there would be grounds for let’s say a further five years with a united support across the community, for the 50:50 to return to give it that push up beyond the threshold figure so that communities then would say this is a representative police service and we should encourage our young people to join up,” he added.