Now this is interesting. Though I am not quite sure what it means in reality. Joining the cops is not popular anywhere. Even in relatively quiet areas of England, policemen tend to live slightly separate lives from the rest of us. They see layers of behaviour that the rest of remain apart from or deeply unaware of.
In a place like Northern Ireland where to join the police can still make you ‘a legitimate political target’, it is hardly surprising that considerable fear remains around joining the PSNI. And given the fact that dissidents are actively targeting cops from their own community, it’s also not surprising that Catholics would be disproportionately more fearful.
This was the only question in the poll where a clear majority of people would say nothing. By contrast only about one in seven people (14%) refused to say whether or not they favoured a united Ireland. Gerry Lynch — an analyst with our polling partners LucidTalk — described the refusal rate as “off the scale”.
When the figures are broken down 74% of men, 60% of women, 64% of Protestants and 77% of Catholics declined to give any answer at all. Mr Lynch felt the low response rate was partly prompted by the words “close relative”.
Considering whether they would like to see a loved one in the PSNI, he believed, made the question more problematic than a general query about support for the police.
The PSNI has scored approval ratings of 80% in some surveys.
Mr Lynch pointed out that, even “of the tiny number of Catholics who dare venture an opinion, 54% would not encourage a close relative to join the PSNI”.
Just over a third of Protestants, 36%, were prepared to answer but 90% of those who did answer would encourage the relative.
As it happens we have had sight of a much smaller (therefore necessarily much less robust) electronic poll taken at a NWRC Talks Back event in Derry amongst young people during Community Relations week (thanks to Peter of Rubicon for sight of the figures btw).
The refusal rate was much lower than the BelTel poll and interestingly, it asked two questions on the subject.
Would you join the Police?
No 16 23.53%
Yes 52 76.47%
Would you support a member of your family or close friend to join the Police?
Yes: 43 68.25%
No: 20 31.75%
Amongst nationalists I would venture that ‘not joining’ the police is still a popular notion on a community wide level. But I wonder how stiff that resistance actually is since the smaller Rubicon survey shows a flip of quite spectacular proportions when the question is put at a stage removed from the respondent.
Now, to some extent comparing these two surveys is like the proverbial apples and pears. I’ve been trying to locate the Rubicon survey within the hyperlocal melee around policing in nationalist majority Derry. But it seems from the Lucid Talk poll there is a general coldness around even talking about joining the police right across Northern Ireland.
Gerry Lynch’s caveat about the use of ‘close relative’ is important. And useful too to note that in the smaller survey the higher response rate is probably helped too by the fact that responses was clearly anonymised so that no one else would see what answer you’d given.
In Derry policing is a strong point of departure for many in a republican base that was never quite under the control of the old Provisional IRA in the way that west Belfast has been sine that faction asserted its upper hand in the 1970s.
Organisations like RAAD get their claims to legitimacy because they are seen to be more effective than the PSNI at dealing with some pretty high levels of anti social crime, thus if not quite crowding out the police’s claims to monopoly of force then vigorously contesting it.
In the meantime it is clear that making policing normal requires more than just pushing up the proportion of Catholics in the PSNI…
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty