Representative policing?

By Gerry Adams (for Leargas)

This blog has written to the British Secretary of State, Owen Patterson setting my view of the review he is conducting into 50:50 recruitment of the PSNI.

The concern of this blog is that he is doing this at the behest of the unionist parties who have stridently opposed 50:50 from the outset.

Given Patterson’s close links to the unionist parties and his efforts to construct a unionist electoral pact prior to the last Westminster election between the UUP, DUP and Orange Order, these concerns are justified.

Policing reform was one of the great challenges of the peace process. It took years of hard work and very difficult negotiations to get republicans and nationalists to the point that we could feel confident about endorsing the policing arrangements.

One of the key elements of the new arrangements was 50:50 recruitment. This is an affirmative action programme in the recruitment of the policing service. It has its roots in the Good Friday Agreement 1998 which set as the goal for policing a “ beginning to policing ... with a police service capable of attracting and sustaining support from the community as a whole.”

The Agreement stipulated that a new policing service should be “...representative of the society it polices.”

The Patten Commission recognised that in the interests of efficiency and effectiveness as well as achieving fairness and representativeness : “the police service ... needs to include appropriately large numbers of nationalists, including republicans, if it is likely to be full effective.”

In order to achieve this Patten concluded that the 50:50 recruitment model was necessary for at least a ten year period. The Patten Commission made no recommendation that this should be time-limited or that the recruitment of PSNI civilian staff should be exempt.

But now this important element of the new policing dispensation is under threat by the British government.

Currently Catholics only make up 30% of officers in the PSNI. This is an important distinction. Because the NIO refuses to apply 50:50 to civilian workers employed by the PSNI the 30% is an inflated statistic and Catholic representation in the PSNI is actually lower.

Moreover, nowhere in the Patten report does it claim that the height of the Commission’s ambition should be a proportion of officers of 30% for Catholics. In fact, the Commission made clear that if all of their proposals for change in recruitment practices were adopted, “the figure (of Catholics) after ten years would be 40%”

The Patten Commission made it clear that any decision about the future of affirmative action in recruitment procedures can only be made in the context of the prevailing circumstances and the objective evidence. Patten states: “In light of the recruitment experience and other developments between now and then, a judgement would need to be made as to whether special measures were still needed to achieve a police service representative of the community....”

According to the 2001 census the percentage of the population in the north who come from a Catholic background was 43.8%. The next census is due to be held next year and it is predicted that this figure will continue to rise. The proportion of Catholics within the total PSNI workforce is substantially less than this. This inequality remains particularly pronounced in the civilian PSNI staff with less than 20% of Staff members coming from a Catholic background.

The phasing out of 50:50 recruitment provisions would reduce the number of Catholics joining the PSNI and impact badly on the need to ensure that the PSNI reflects the society it polices.

The figure of Catholic representation within PSNI Officers (cited as 29.38% ) also disguises the fact that there is extreme under-representation of Catholics in the higher ranks of the PSNI. Catholics are mainly located at the rank of student officers and Constables. Only 15% of Sergeants are Catholic, 14.5% of Inspectors, 13% of Chief Inspectors, 10% of Superintendents and 16% of Senior Officers.

In addition, of those 132 officers who have left the police, having been recruited between 1 January 2001 and 31 December 2006, 40 (i.e. 30%) were Protestant, 89 (i.e. 67.4%) were Roman Catholic and three were non-determined. This prompted the Equality Commission to seek information from the PSNI about the retention rates of Protestant and Catholic officers and to propose that the reasons for differential retention rate should be further investigated.

The Criminal Justice Inspectorate noted this with concern and made clear that these were of critical importance to the success of arrangements to ensure that the PSNI became representative.

The composition of the PSNI is manifestly not representative of the whole community.

The inequalities and underrepresentation of Catholics is especially pronounced in the middle and higher ranks of the PSNI and civilian policing staff. No evidence has been generated to indicate that the PSNI now “include appropriately large numbers of nationalists, including republicans...” as recommended by Patten.

Given the available evidence, and the importance of ensuring that progress to a new beginning to policing is made irreversible, this blog believes, and I have told Mr. Patterson this, that there is no objective basis for the withdrawal of 50:50 recruitment provisions in 2011.

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