A real cop-out

By Brian Feeney (for Irish News)

The graffito used to say, ‘90 per cent Protestant, 100 per cent unionist’. Graffiti have to be catchy to make the point but the figures were in fact worse.

By the 1990s the RUC was 92 per cent Protestant. In an attempt to correct this outrageous imbalance one of the core proposals in the Patten report insisted on 50-50 recruiting for the new police.

On January 17 diligent work by the BBC’s Vincent Kearney revealed that after years of denying they were aware of the records of former employment of civilian agency staff, the PSNI admitted that they do know they have taken on hundreds of ex-RUC personnel--- 122 of whom are working in intelllgence or serious crime.

They’ve been moving in and out of the PSNI for years, this after many of them received massive payouts under the Patten provisions.

We don’t know what rank the new part-timers had but senior RUC officers could retire with up to 500,000 pounds while the average for a constable was around 95,000 pounds.

Legislation in 2003 prevented retiring police returning in live years without handing back their redundancy money but the PSNI has got round this provision by hiring them as civilians on temporary contracts.

Essentially what the PSNI management has done is to subvert both the objective and the spirit of the Patten reforms and they’ve been doing it for years.

So far PSNI responses have deliberately and disingenuously dodged the issue. You get irrelevant nonsense such as “the policy is in line with current employment law and offers value for money”.

Even if it did, and former Assistant Chief Constable Alan McQuillan questions whether it does provide value for money, that’s not the point and the PSNI know that fine well. The point simply is that employing hundreds of ex-RUC members undermines comprehensively what Patten was trying to achieve.

Since 92 percent of the RUC was Protestant, and let’s be realistic, unionist, if you hire a few hundred ex-RUC personnel, what do you think the unionist/nationalist divide will be? As the Americans say,do the math. So talk about them doing a great job is just so much sand thrown in the eyes of the critics, oul plamas, spin, a smokescreen. PSNI management know that’s not the real issue and that’s why the PSNI has been trying to cover up the composition of these agency staff for years. The real issue is hiring hundreds of people who will be overwhelmingly Protestant and unionist whereas society here is at least 43 per cent nationalist and a crucial objective of the PSNI is to work to reflect that composition. Subverting that is a disgrace and a scandal.

Furthermore as Alan McQuillan says it’s simply going to perpetuate the expertise problem because if you’re not training new people in intelligence and serious crime work then you’re going to have to rely on similar part-timers for years ahead and guess who they will be? The policy is a vicious circle.

Again, welcoming an audit office investigation is more plamas.

Even if the audit office found it was good value for money despite having to pay the agency on top of the staff, such an inquiry would not address the key issue which is nothing short ofan attempt to maintain the old discredited, failed RUC ethos in the canteen culture of the PSNI.

All of which leaves aside the critical question, namely where was Sinn Fein during all this? Why did it take the BBC to unearth these practices? Answer-- asleep at the wheel again just as they were while shenanigans by the NIO and justice department went on to subvert the Ombudsman’s office.

Let’s hope at tomorrow’s meeting they’re not going to be fobbed off with a load of rubbish snow-job about ‘value for money’ and ‘valuable experience’ going to waste.

Find out who initiated the policy and why there is no open competition as former Chief Superintendent Baxter asks and why thousands of pounds are wasted on part-timers when there are unemployed graduates out there to be trained and why under fair employment legislation there is such an imbalance in recruitment of part-timers. At the very least SF could do a Freedom of Information course.

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