NEW FIGURES obtained from BBC Northern Ireland show that of 193 new police officers hired in 2020, 75% were identified as coming from a ‘Protestant background’ whilst just 24% were from a ‘Catholic background’.
These numbers were supplied by the PSNI in the wake of a new recruitment drive designed to mark 20 years since the force was established and comes amidst another controversial anniversary in Northern Ireland: the partition of the Irish State.
The force has said it remains hopeful that it can hire 400 student officers as part of its latest campaign and insists it is doing everything it can to try and encourage more Catholics to sign up.
As part of the Good Friday Agreement, policing in Northern Ireland was reformed, and in 2001 the predominantly Protestant RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) was replaced by the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland).
Aside from elements within mainstream Republicanism being hesitant to support policing in Northern Ireland, the Catholic community as a whole has historically been reluctant to support the force, which was seen as institutionally repressive and representative of a State apparatus which had denied them their Civil Rights.
With this in mind, Sinn Féin policing board member Gerry Kelly spoke on the Good Morning Ulster programme on BBC Radio Ulster earlier today, saying of the latest figures:
“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.
“We support the PSNI dealing with the present, but when it comes to legacy, who could support any chief constable going into court or actually refusing to give information to the courts or to the ombudsman or whoever it may be.”
Another problem faced by the PSNI has been the retraction of important legislation back in 2011, which aimed at conducting recruitment drives aimed specifically at prospective Catholic officers.
Under that legislation, the number of Catholic officers increased by 400% in a decade, so that 32% of the force’s total 7,000 are now comprised of those same officers.
Since legislation ended ten years ago, recruitment of Catholics has stalled considerably, with many now warning that progress could begin to role back if drastic action is not taken.
Unionist parties are staunchly opposed to the reintroduction of any legislation.