SDLP South Down Assembly candidate Councillor Eamonn O’Neill has called on Secretary of State Owen Paterson to think again on ending 50/50 recruitment to the PSNI in the light of continued dissident violence.
He said, “The current levels of Catholic membership of the PSNI, while a positive move forward from the days of the former RUC, still do not reflect the demographic map of Northern Ireland. This hands a propaganda gain to the dissidents whose aim is to portray the PSNI as a reflection of a Police Service that draws its membership overwhelmingly from the Protestant and Unionist community.
“As a society we cannot allow that to happen. Instead we must commit ourselves to ensuring that every possible to strengthen the numbers of Catholics in the Police Service.
“Currently around 29 % of the PSNI membership is from the Catholic community, which falls far short of reflecting the population makeup. “
Councillor O’Neill added that the issue of a weighted recruitment policy designed to enhance an increased membership of Catholics in the Police had caused problems of perception for some in the Unionist community, but it was a policy and a price that had to be paid that had to be retained in face of the increased Dissident Republican threat.
“Of course it will be difficult for those gifted young members of the Protestant community who feel that they have been unfairly discriminated against in applying to the PSNI.
“We have to look at the wider implications. Quite simply, the new beginning in policing is the single greatest achievement of the peace process. Establishment of an accountable and representative police service has been the key to our new agreed Ireland and that is precisely why the dissidents focus all their attacks on the PSNI. But this work is not complete.
“Patten proposed 30% Catholic membership as a floor, not a ceiling. In the present community circumstances it is more important than ever to continue progress towards a fully representative service. That is why we have opposed the ending of 50/50 recruitment, which can only be viewed as a negative step that plays into the arms of the bombers and gunmen.”