PSNI recruitment: ‘Hard policing and major distrust deters Catholics from joining’

New recruits to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Picture: Stephen Davison/Pacemaker
New recruits to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Picture: Stephen Davison/Pacemaker

Catholics applying to join the police “risk being disowned by their families,” a Strabane councillor has said.

Paul Gallagher said that even the suggested reintroduction of the PSNI’s 50/50 recruitment policy would not encourage more Catholics from nationalist backgrounds to join.

Mr Gallagher said the legacy of the “hard” policing experienced during the Troubles, the threat posed by armed dissident republicans, and the risk of being “disowned” means that no nationalists he knows will join the PSNI.

“None. I don’t see any. I am confident in saying none. Definitely not,” he said emphatically.

“It doesn’t matter if there is 50/50 [recruitment] or not, I don’t see too many policemen coming from Strabane.”

Mr Gallagher, who sits as an independent member on Derry and Strabane District Council, was commenting after temporary Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin said a return to the controversial recruitment policy was one possible option to address the shortfall in the number of Catholic applying for a career in the PSNI.

Introduced in 2001 as part of the Patten-recommended policing reforms, the policy had increased Catholic representation from around 8% to more than 30% by the time it was ended in 2011.

However, DCC Martin said it was proving difficult to sustain the trend.

Mr Gallagher said that even if the dissident threat was set to one side, “historically for the last 40 or 50 years people have had a major distrust” of the police.

“Particularly in the 70s and 80s we would have had very hard policing from in those days the SPGs. So people in the their mid-20s now have that mistrust – it’s all been passed down,” he said.

“I know people I would see as being neutral in the political sense, but they will tell you ‘not a chance’. It might take another 50 or 100 years. That is the reality.”

Mr Gallagher added: “If some guy or woman says they are going to make an application to the police, they run the risk of being disowned from the family.

“If you look at Strabane, there were probably in the range of 400-500 people who went through Long Kesh. So when you spread that out into the wider family, with that history behind them, reconciling that will be very difficult.”

On Tuesday morning, a west Belfast caller to the U105 Frank Mitchell show said he was certain that children as young as seven would attack cars belonging to any police officers residing in areas such as Ballymurphy or Short Strand.

“No way would a PSNI officer live comfortably in the Ballymurphy area, or Short Strand or Andersonstown,” he said.

“There’s no way could a PSNI officer live there. They would have to move out and that’s the simple fact of it. Once seven or eight-year-old kids found out he was a PSNI officer their life wouldn’t be worth living.”

Asked if he believed the general attitude towards police of people living in areas such as west Belfast or south Armagh had improved in recent years, the caller replied: “No. The people of west Belfast will never accept the PSNI.”