Data on Catholic PSNI recruits ‘shows why we need a return to 50–50’

The SDLP’s Policing Board representative has said fresh figures for the number of Catholics who make it through the PSNI’s hiring process show a return to 50–50 recruitment is now needed.

By Adam Kula
Tuesday, 6th July 2021, 7:00 am
An anti-PSNI mural in 2019 in Londonderry’s republican-dominated Bogside
An anti-PSNI mural in 2019 in Londonderry’s republican-dominated Bogside

Dolores Kelly made the remarks in the wake of a report from the PSNI chief constable, which discloses that fewer than a quarter of candidates who make it through to the force’s “merit pool” are Catholics.

The merit pool is essentially the group of people who have made it through the initial hiring process, and are then eligible to be offered a job (although they still have to overcome some hurdles, like fitness tests and drug screening).

The report in question is titled “Chief Constable’s Accountability Report to the Northern Ireland Policing Board,” and was released late last week.

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Whilst it shows some groups are over-represented compared to their prevalence in the population (see below), the proportion of Catholics who make it through to the merit pool is relatively low, at 24.7%.

But according to the 2011 census, Catholics made up roughly 45% of the Province’s population, whilst 49% were described as “Protestant or Other Christian”.

Demographic trends indicate the proportion of Catholics has grown further since 2011, and it is possible that Catholics now outnumber Protestants (though this will only be confirmed once the results of this year’s census are released).

In terms of serving officers, about 32% are Catholic.

The PSNI has said its intake of Catholics “is an area requiring continued focus in our outreach planning”.

Mrs Kelly was asked by the News Letter if the old 50–50 policy (which ran for a decade until 2011 and made sure half of new recruits were Catholics) should be revived.

“Yes,” replied Mrs Kelly.

“There does need to be a radical intervention.

“The last number of years we’ve been warning the British government and others about the downward trends.

“We do believe 50-50 is a measure that should be brought back. There is an urgency needed.”

She said the ongoing dissident republican threat is one factor hampering Catholic recruitment, as is the “poisonous impact” of the Troubles – particularly “the continuous bad news stories” concerning allegations of loyalist–RUC collusion.

Unionists have often spoken out strongly against a return of 50–50.

For instance in 2018 Arlene Foster had said: “Discrimination in the form of 50:50 recruitment is not the answer. It causes more problems than it cures.

“People should be appointed on merit, not on the basis of what church they attend or their religious affiliation.”


While Catholics are under-represented in the PSNI’s latest recruitment figures, LGBT people (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) are over-represented.

That is the picture painted by government estimates of their prevalence in the general population.

The figures in this week’s police report show that, in terms of its 2020 hiring drive, LGBT people made up 7.2% of the applicants.

And when it comes to the “merit pool” (that is, the people who have shown they are qualified for the job), the figure was higher still – 9% of people in the merit pool fell into the LGBT category.

In October 2018 the PSNI had revealed that about 2% of its roughly 6,700-strong force were gay or bisexual (it did not monitor whether officers are transgender).

For comparison, recent research from the government’s Office for National Statistics, dating from 2018, stated that 1.2% of the Province’s general population are gay or bisexual.

The UK-wide average was 2.2% – a number which has been creeping up slightly year-on-year, with the biggest increase being those who say they are bisexual (this grew from 0.5% of people across the UK in 2014, to 0.9% in 2018).

In short, these numbers mean that the rate of LGBT candidates in the PSNI merit pool is roughly seven times higher than the rate of LGBT people in Northern Ireland generally.

Looking at other groups, those from an ethnic minority background made up 2.3% of applicants – but by the time the recruitment process had filtered out most budding officers, a mere 0.8% of people who made it through to the PSNI’s merit pool were from ethnic minorities.

Less than 2% of the general population are non-white, according to the 2011 census in Northern Ireland.

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