Formal discrimination against non Catholics in PSNI recruitment was deeply unjust, and must not now return

The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland has said 50:50 recruitment should return for the PSNI.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 17th December 2019, 12:00 am
Updated Saturday, 1st February 2020, 1:56 am
News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

Archbishop Eamon Martin is a much respected churchman, whose evident sensitivity and goodwill is noticed across the community.

It is naturally a concern for him in particular, given his prominent role in the Catholic community, that Catholic recruitment in the PSNI has fallen back notably, but it is also a concern for Northern Ireland as a whole.

Only 32% of the PSNI is currently Catholic.

Yet there are several reasons for this.

Just as Provisional IRA terrorists targeted judges and prosecutors, with a particular emphasis on Catholics who held that role, and ultimately also targeted people who merely supplied or worked for the security forces, with a particular focus on Catholics who did so (such as Patsy Gillespie), dissidents now target Catholic PSNI officers. Ronan Kerr was murdered and Peadar Heffron lost his leg in such attacks.

It is no surprise that such terrorism will have its intended effect, and make policing a less attractive career option than it might have been for people of a nationalist background.

To return to 50:50 recruitment is to suggest that this is the fault of the rest of the community, as opposed to terrorists. In any event, there are typically various explanations, including cultural and historical, as to why people from particular backgrounds are drawn to certain types or places of work.

The initial introduction of 50:50 recruitment was deeply unjust, because better qualified non Catholic applicants sometimes lost out to less qualified Catholic applicants.

There was, however, at least a noble goal behind that initial recruitment. It did drive up the share of Catholic recruits.

The injustice of less qualified people getting good jobs over better qualified candidates, due to state sanctioned discrimination, has happened. It had its desired outcome for a while but it is not the fault of the non Catholic community if those gains now go into decline. Discrimination must not return.