PSNI officers are mainly still unable to live in nationalist areas across Northern Ireland, former Policing Board vice chair Denis Bradley has said.
The Londonderry man was speaking in the wake of an under-bomb car attack by dissident republicans on an officer in Ardanlee in the Culmore area of Londonderry last week.
Mr Bradley said he was “surprised” that a police officer had been living in the area as it was a “nationalist” part of Londonderry.
He added: “Going back a few years there was a relevant PSNI policy – I am not sure if it was formal or informal – for young nationalist officers not to buy homes too much in their original areas and not to stay too long at their parents’ homes when visiting.”
In reality he is “not sure there is a distinction between republican or nationalist areas” regarding threat levels, but “it is certainly true along the border, plus in Belfast” that Catholic officers generally do not live in nationalist areas. The same situation also applies to nationalist areas of Londonderry. Only in central areas such as mid-Tyrone do Catholic police officers live in nationalist areas, he said.
However, he was deeply saddened on joining the Policing Board to find officers no longer living in loyalist areas either.
The implication is that PSNI officers live in predominantly unionist or at least mixed areas.
Across the British Isles, officers normally move to middle-class areas after joining up, he added.
Dissident attacks on Catholic PSNI officers in nationalist areas have included Ryan Crozier at Castlederg in 2008, Peadar Heffron near Randalstown in 2010 and Ronan Kerr who died after an attack in Omagh in 2011.
Police Federation chairman Mark Lindsay said dissidents are a real threat in both nationalist and unionist areas.
“There is now a lot more acceptance of officers in areas not traditionally seen as comfortable with them, for example rural areas of Tyrone, Fermanagh and Londonderry,” he said. “Nowadays more officers are reluctant to move away from the areas they are from, unless there is an obvious danger to their families.”
The PSNI said it was “not true” that Catholic officers normally cannot live in nationalist areas. Officers must make formal applications to live in their chosen area, it added.
ACC Alan Todd said: “We encourage and support our officers’ preference to live in the community or neighbourhood of their choosing. Where security issues arise we will always provide the appropriate advice and guidance.”