RUC’s Catholic recruitment problem not just down to IRA, NIO admitted

RUC officers pictured after an IRA attack on Glengormley RUC Station in 1992
RUC officers pictured after an IRA attack on Glengormley RUC Station in 1992

The incredibly low number of Catholic members of the RUC – just 6.9% in 1992 – could not simply be attributed to intimidation by the IRA and reflected much deeper Catholic alienation from authority, a previously classified government document from the early 1990s admitted.

The NIO analysis of low Catholic representation within Northern Ireland’s police force was conducted in 1993 and is contained within a security file which has been declassified at the Public Record Office in Belfast under the 20 year Rule.

The restricted five-page document said that from the outset of the RUC in 1922 its composition “was intended to be one-third Catholic” but that in fact it had been “unable to fill the Catholic quota and the proportion of Catholics in the forces [sic] has since declined from what proved to be the peak of 21.1% in 1923. The current minority community representation is 6.9%...the main reason for the low level of representation is the attitude of the minority community towards the state of Northern Ireland and experience of unionism.

“This alienation from the police cannot be dismissed as simply a produce of IRA violence – Catholics did not join the police in large numbers even during the early sixties when there was no IRA campaign.

“The prison Service is similarly regarded and shares an equally low minority community representation (7.3%)). Even Catholic middle class families living in mixed residential areas, in general, do not want their sons and daughters to join the RUC. Some families go so far as to reject totally sons or daughters who join the police.”

However, the analysis said that Catholic RUC recruitment “has not been helped by the IRA campaign”, with Catholic officers potentially “very vulnerable, particularly if they are from nationalist areas. The IRA has, in the past, deliberately targeted Catholic RUC and UDR members as part of their campaign of terrorism. For a Catholic from a difficult area the inevitable consequence of joining the police is moving home and restricting contact with his or her family.

“At the same time, there is widespread recognition within the Catholic community that there ought to be more Catholics in the police. In 1990, 63% of Catholics and 53% of Protestants agreed that it would be better for NI if there were more Catholics in the RUC.”

The document said that the RUC had in recent years been making “strenuous efforts to increase Catholic recruitment”, and was fully subject to fair employment legislation.

As well as internal changes to make it easier to report harassment or other grievances, the RUC was advertising in newspapers to specifically target Catholic recruits and its recruitment team was “particularly targeting Roman Catholic schools. However, despite these efforts there is still considerable ground to cover, and support from leaders in the minority community is patchy.

“In 1991 the RUC recruitment trawl in Catholic schools was criticised by SDLP councillor Brian Feeney as being ‘naive and impractical’ and that any plan to recruit Catholic school children into the RUC would not work - ‘Officers would not be able to gain exclusive access to Catholic schools because no other profession was able to do so. Marking the RUC out as separate, proves that it is separate.’

“On the other hand, some Catholic clergy have encouraged recruitment to the RUC....some elements within the nationalist community believe that the police will only become acceptable after radical change...others argue for changes to the symbols and title of the force. In particular, they argue for the removal of the word ‘Royal’ as they point out the RUC is the only force in the UK with the title. While renaming the RUC would be welcomed in the minority community there is no doubt that this move would be resisted strongly by the majority.”

The RUC became the Police Service of Northern Ireland in 2001 following the Belfast Agreement. The word Royal was dropped, its symbols were changed and positive discrimination was implemented to boost Catholic recruitment. That saw Catholic police officers increase to 31% of the force when it was ended in 2011.