Catholics are leaving the PSNI police in numbers and fewer are applying to join, new figures have shown.
The latest statistics show that, although the population of the Six Counties is 48 per cent Protestant, more than two in three of the current PSNI membership are now from that community.
Three in ten are Catholics, but the rate should be 50% higher than that according to the Patten reforms which converted the old RUC into the current PSNI.
Recruits to the force are once again disproportionately Protestant. after 50:50 recruitment system was scrapped four years ago following sustained criticism by unionists that it “discriminated” against Protestants.
The rebalancing of the PSNI workforce had been a key factor leading to the SDLP, and later Sinn Fein, supporting the new PSNI. At one point, just 8 per cent of RUC officers were Catholic.
SDLP Policing Board member Dolores Kelly said the drop off in Catholic PSNI is worrying.
“It is a matter of great concern that after all the work done to encourage young Catholics to join the police,” she said. “We want exit interviews. We want to know why everyone is leaving, what their reasons are.”
Unionist Policing Board member Ross Hussey has suggested that the flight of Catholics from the PSNI is due to the threat of “republican violence”.
“As was the case with the RUC, any disincentive for Catholics to join the PSNI is due in large part to the ongoing campaign of republican violence and in particular the active targeting of police officers from a Catholic community background,” he said.
“We believe that the best person for the job should be appointed to a job, regardless of colour, class, creed or gender.”
But there is a growing sense that the PSNI remains “a cold house” for northern nationalists. It was revealed this week that plans are afoot to remove the Patten-era requirement for PSNI members to declare membership of the Orange Order and other secret anti-Catholic organisations.
The Orange Order has said a PSNI review of the rule came after “continual and extensive lobbying” by senior Orangemen. The order’s monthly paper, the Orange Standard, also said it believes membership of the GAA (Gaelic sports association) and other ‘nationalist’ signifiers should have to be declared under the present policy.
A spokesman for Sinn Fein said: “The requirement to declare a belonging to a set number of organisations for PSNI officers it is still as relevant today as it was when this was first enacted.”
There have been other signs of declining nationalist confidence in the force recently.
A meeting of the Magherafelt Policing and Community Safety Partnership had to be cancelled this week after it was boycotted by nationalist representatives.
The ‘watchdog’ body - one of 26 across the north - has been at the centre of controversy since the family of murdered GAA official Sean Brown, urged elected representatives not to attend in protest at the PSNI’s handling of his inquest.
And in south Armagh, a sizable protest took place last weekend at the rise of “criminality” in the area and the failure of the PSNI to engage in local policing. Sinn Fein Policing spokesperson Gerry Kelly said he had raised the issue at a meeting of the Policing Board.
He said he also ‘quizzed’ the PSNI about unacceptable delays to coroners’ inquests and stalling tactics in the case of police informer Gary Haggarty.
“I will be demanding answers to these issues from the senior management of the PSNI and will continue to hold them to account until these matters are satisfactorily resolved.”