Garda has no religious breakdown statistics ‘despite Dublin lectures to NI’

The Garda keeps no record of the religion of its officers, something Commissioner Drew Harris plans to change
The Garda keeps no record of the religion of its officers, something Commissioner Drew Harris plans to change

News that the Garda keeps no record of the religious breakdown of its workforce is ‘telling’ in light of the ‘lectures’ it gives NI, the TUV has claimed.

A Garda spokeswoman has responded that new commissioner, former PSNI ACC Drew Harris, is planning sweeping reforms on the matter.

The news comes after PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin said recruitment of Catholic officers “seems to have stalled” and suggested the return of the 50/50 hiring policy: half Catholic and half ‘other’ recruits.

This increased the percentage of Catholic officers from 8% to 31% from 2001 to 2010, NI now being 48% Protestant to 45% Catholic.

However, an FOI inquiry to An Garda Síochána found that the southern force keeps no record of its officers’ religion and so was unable to say how reflective it is of the community it serves.

The Protestant population of the 26 counties dropped by some 60% from 1911 to 2011, when it was recorded at around 3.2%, says Robin Bury.

In 2017 the former history teacher published ‘Buried Lives, The Protestants of Southern Ireland’.

He uncovered an exodus of 40,000 Protestants from the south from 1920-23, due to sectarian intimidation and up to 200 murders.

Southern Protestants did not traditionally feel comfortable joining “a Catholic police force” he said.

“Almost all Protestants withdrew from the Catholic nationalist state, which defined Irish people as Catholic and anti-English/Scottish,” he said. “So Protestants had no interest in joining a Catholic police force.”

Asked if he thought this may have mirrored the relationship between Catholics and police in Northern Ireland, he replied: “I think so. It is not a preferred career choice for southern Protestants.”

However, a Garda spokeswoman said that Commissioner Harris said “a key focus” going forward will be to make the Garda “more representative of the community it serves, and this includes religious diversity”.

In the meantime, she said, the force “enjoys very high levels of trust from the community” with its Public Attitude Survey finding over 85% of people trust it.

Currently it is a matter for individual employees to choose whether to disclose their religion, she added.

DUP MP Gregory Campbell said policing in the south is a matter for southern politicians, but that it is “a fundamental rule in any society” that officers should be appointed on merit alone. “It will be interesting to see how the people in the Republic feel about their own police force and its composition,” he said.

TUV leader Jim Allister said southern Protestants had realised the new Irish state “had no place” for their identity and culture. “It is telling that while Dublin often lectures Northern Ireland on equality and was a vocal supporter of the 50/50 policy when it came to the PSNI, it holds no such data relating to its own police force,” he said.

SDLP policing and justice spokesperson Dolores Kelly MLA said it is critical to any democracy that the police service is representative of the place it seeks to serve. “It goes without saying our context in the North is different to that of the South. Nonetheless plans by An Garda Síochána to make their force more reflective of the society it represents is a welcome move,” she said.

Sinn Fein was invited to comment.