PSNI chief constable: SF must urge Catholics to join police

George Hamilton, pictured at the funeral of Martin McGuinness
George Hamilton, pictured at the funeral of Martin McGuinness

Sinn Fein is not doing enough to promote the idea that Catholics can become police officers, the chief constable has indicated.

George Hamilton made the suggestion in a lengthy and wide-ranging interview with the latest edition of The Irish Catholic, published today.

He said politicians “need to get themselves to that point” of advocating a career in the PSNI, not just offering generalised support for the force.

In the interview he also talks of his “dilemma” about going to Martin McGuinness’s funeral, among much else.

The Irish Catholic describes itself as a weekly paper with a circulation of about 30,000, adding that it is “sold in almost every church by an army of volunteers”. The George Hamilton interview was conducted by Martin O’Brien.

Catholics make up about 31% of PSNI officers (up from around 8% at the turn of the millennium) according to a recent report about PSNI recruitment by the firm Deloitte.

If the force’s membership was to mirror the working-age population then this figure should be about 45%, that report had said.

Despite Catholics making up less than a third of overall PSNI numbers, The Irish Catholic quotes the chief constable as saying “the Catholic community is over-represented in those uniformed officers and detectives who go out and deliver front line service to the community when your house is broken into or whatever”.

He said this is down to an influx of Catholics during the period of 50:50 recruitment (a policy which ran from 2001 to 2011, and meant half of recruits were supposed to be from Catholic backgrounds).

However, he went on to add: “There also hasn’t been the strength of advocacy for a career in policing that I would have hoped for, this far into the new police organisation.”

As to whether he was talking about “Catholic leaders and opinion formers”, he said: “Yes, I would say probably more in the political realm than in the religious realm.

“I’ve said before publicly I do not question the bona fides of Sinn Fein as the largest nationalist/republican party in terms of their commitment to the peace process, and part of that being support for policing.

“It is almost support for policing, rather than the very specific support for a career in policing, for Catholic and nationalist young people.

“They need to get themselves to that point.”

In the last several years Catholic officers have been specifically targeted by republicans, leading to the deaths of Stephen Carroll (shot dead in Craigavon in 2009) and Ronan Kerr (killed by a car bombing in Omagh in 2011), plus the maiming of GAA sportsman and Irish language specialist Peadar Heffron (in a 2010 bombing in Randalstown).

Last month the latest failed bid to kill police saw a bomb detonate in Strabane, a town which is over 80% Catholic.

Whilst the 35-page Deloitte report (headlined ‘Understanding barriers affecting police officer recruitment’) does not mention any of these things, it does note that Catholics view the opinions of “family/friends” and “other groups ... ie local community” as being more important to them when considering a PSNI career than Protestants do.

In the final portion of the interview, the chief constable spoke of the “dilemma” of having to decide whether or not to attend the McGuinness funeral on March 23.

According to the book ‘Lost Lives’, between 1966 and 2006 the IRA killed 273 members of the RUC or the RUC reserve (plus six mainland UK officers).

A statement from Mr Hamilton within hours of the news of his death last month had acknowledged the suffering of police officers during the Troubles, and also said the Sinn Fein man “believed in a better future for our community”.

In The Irish Catholic he said: “My values and emotions were being pulled in opposite directions and I just had a fundamental decision to make about whether or not I believed it was the right thing to do, to go.”

Ultimately, he decided that as a senior public figure it was “appropriate to attend the funeral of [the person] who had been deputy first minister for a decade”.

He described Mr McGuinness as “a great pragmatist” who “never compromised his own ideals and aspirations and values and [who] never asked me to compromise mine”.

Theirs had been a “frank and forthright relationship,” he said.

SINN FEIN AND SDLP REACT:

Both Sinn Fein and the SDLP were asked for a response to the remarks from the chief constable.

Sinn Fein – the only one of the two nationalist-inclined parties directly named by Mr Hamilton – said in a statement that it welcomed the fact the PSNI had commissioned the Deloitte report to try and “work towards highlighting the barriers to recruitment”.

“We are happy to continue to engage on how to address these barriers,” it said.

“However, it is the responsibility of the employer to address under-representation at all levels.

“We have made it clear at all stages that recruitment cannot be viewed in isolation. It must be looked at from retention, mentoring and promotion of under-represented groups.”

The SDLP meanwhile said in a statement: “The Patten reforms and the new beginning to policing was critical to securing the confidence in the PSNI.

“The SDLP and other parties have taken bold and brave steps to make policing here work and to encourage more people from Catholic backgrounds to join the police.

“Diversity enhances the police service.

“The SDLP’s commitment to creating a representative police service is unswerving and we’ll continue that work through the Policing Board.”