Joining the police is still not something many people want to talk about…

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.

Here’s what the Belfast Telegraph poll had to say on the matter:

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%
Answered 68/90

Would you support a member of your family or close friend to join the Police?

Yes: 43 68.25%
No: 20 31.75%
Answered 63/90

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…

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  • People are wary on several grounds. One is certainly the fear factor……not just of joining the Police…..but the fear for a relative. An awareness that the relative will see things and be involved in things….a domestic abuse case for example or just clearing up the sick after a drunk has been arrested. Things about which polite society knows nothing.
    Certainly police officers here became insular, they were compelled to be insular, at a distance from the two communities they served. And distant from the community (either community) from which they emerged.
    It can be no different in England. Working class communities (and its complicated by ethnicity) are wary of one of their own joining the Police. And middle class people are wary also because the police service is not aspirational as any other career.
    Truth is Police.despite graduate recruitment is still regarded as …at best….lower middle class. For middle class parents thats often seen as a step backwards.

    I declare an interest. I had a cousin now retired in “old” RUC. He joined around 1979 and would have been best man at my wedding in 1982….in West Belfast but (in part diplomatically) he could not attend. He had been ordered not to attend. In honesty, I was relieved. No awkward explanations or guarded comments to people I did not know and some would not have approved.
    The consequence was that he became a semi-detached member of an extended family, about whom people only asked one question of his mother “Is he ok?”. We didnt want to know any more. Not even an address. Christmas cards via his “old” home.
    Of course that isolation took a toll on him. He retired aged about 48 on ill health grounds.
    And I dont suppose thats very different from the story of many of his colleagues.
    I once asked him at a family funeral…”why dont you just leave? and his reply was that it had gone on so long that he was safer inside than outside.
    Of course that was the late 1970s. Notwithstanding the murders of Stephen Carroll (targetted as a PSNI officer rather than a Catholic) and Ronan Kerr (where community background was an issue), I dont think the situation is nearly so bad as it was. And not likely to be.
    But people allow the “security” issue to cover a more general reluctance for a son/daughter to join police.
    In a sense its not very much different from trying to talk a daughter…or son….out of being a nurse.

  • kathleenbernett

    Do you think that the perceived corruption of the PSNI keeps people away from joining up more than the danger from criminals or the paramilitaries? In the US we unfortunately have our share of police corruption, as well as the culture of separation from general society that police experience and which you and the above commentor mention. But we don’t in general perceive the police officer as a threatening entity. Of course, we have not experienced what you have. Very interesting discussion. Thank you.

  • socaire

    It is the foremost duty of our local British police to uphold, strengthen and promote the staus quo ie the position of the north eastern six counties as an ‘integral part of the United Kingdom’. That is why the LUP community support the PSNI and why the Irish do not. A relative of mine recently was very strong in her condemnation of those who attack the PSNI but on being questioned if she would encourage her teenage son to join, she said No – the time wasn’t right yet.

  • Mister Joe


    What perceived corruption? First time I’ve heard that said. And, who is doing the perceiving?

  • aquifer

    I have never heard corruption and PSNI used together before.

  • socaire

    She has obviously confused them with the RUC. Go ndéana Dia trócaire orthu.

  • kathleenbernett

    Mister Joe, aquifer & socaire, I have been keeping tabs on the latest in the Belfast Tapes situation & the subpoena in US courts to make Boston College release those Tapes to the Brits, and it is through that that I read that the parties on the Irish side believe that the PSNI, since it has former RUC people still onboard, is not to be trusted. Thank you for setting me straight. Glad to hear. BTW, socaire, translation, please?

  • socaire

    May God have mercy on them. As most of them were of the one,true faith, I’m sure they will be ok.

  • sonofstrongbow

    Poor old Republicans still smarting from the fact that the RUC defeated their rag, tag and Bobby tailed ‘army’.

    What’s the beef? Sure the Armani Batt. are having fun playing UK Exchequer funded political musical chairs at Stormont.

    Chuckee R Ka-Ching and all that 😉

  • socaire

    Ha ha! Like England won WW2?

  • DoppiaVu


    Do you ever wonder why sites like Slugger exist? And more relevant to this discussion, do you ever wonder why they can get to a point of celebrating their 10th birthday when they endlessly cover much the same ground over and over again?

    It is because in a situation like NI, there is no black and white, only shades of grey. That’s why the room for debate exists. Both sides can point to justifications for their actions, good and bad. Similarly, both sides can level justifiable criticism at one another. And that is why your simplified “PSNI good, RUC bad” analysis doesn’t stack up.

    I suggest you read a bit more widely. And I’d strongly suggest you attempt to read things that challenge the views you currently hold – you’ll find the truth probably lies somewhere between the two extremes.

  • kathleenbernett


    Thanks for your response & your suggestions. I have been reading books about the conflict for about 4 years now since being at Corrymeela in 2008. I have read: Belfast Diary by John Conroy; Children of the Troubles by Lauren Holliday; Free Ireland: Towards a Lasting Peace by Gerry Adams; Living With War by Sally Belfrage; A New Ireland by John Hume; Rebel Hearts by Kevin Toolis; Making Sense of the Troubles by McKittrick & McVea; My American Struggle for Justice in Northern Ireland by Fr. Sean McManus; and used Lost Lives by McKittrick as a reference. I have also found the 5-book historical fiction series “The Irish Century” by Morgan Llywelyn to be of value in my studies.

    I realize that I am far from up on things compared to somebody who has lived through it, but I am trying to understand.

  • bullfrogbluesman

    Kathleenbernett – I hate to say it but a visit to NI and reading a few books (which appear to be from one viewpoint) does not make you an expert in what passes for politics in this little place. You demonstrate the typical visitors over-simplistic view of Northern Ireland based on what it was like here 40 years ago. You describe Police Officers as corrupt whilst Paramilitaries, who continue to maim kill and extortfrom the communites they claim to protect don’t get a mention from you, probably because your nation has a hierarchy of terrorists, ranging from those your country arm and train, to those you tacitly support, to those, such as Bin Laden, who you can execute without any semblance of due process. I’m not saying you are in the wrong, just that its not as simple as buying an aran jumper, going to Riverdance and reading a few books.

  • babyface finlayson

    “…its not as simple as buying an aran jumper, going to Riverdance and reading a few books.”
    If you don’t mind me saying so that is rather patronising.

    Plenty of people who live here would struggle to explain the history of our little Island. That doesn’t stop them coming on here proclaiming their poorly thought out views.

    Kathleenbernett, do keep reading. It may not be the same as living through it, but if you get a good range of viewpoints you will probably understand as much as most of us here.

  • Comrade Stalin

    bullfrog, that is extremely unreasonable and very rude. Americans like everyone else are usually happy to take on board an alternative view, but they are not likely to do so when it is expressed with that kind of hostility. It’s not fair to accuse someone of having a certain point of view on a matter they did not mention.

    Kathleen, there is no evidence to support the notion that there is a widespread view that the police are corrupt. The Boston college tapes matter is very difficult. The fact is that no amnesty exists and the police are entitled to make inquiries into crimes that took place in the past. This is not corruption, that is the police doing their job within the law. There is an argument suggesting that the police turn a blind eye to some things and not others. For that reason, it surprises me that republicans would be willing to go on the record about things that happened in the past without being sure that there would be no legal way to prevent this from becoming public.

    The most likely reason why people are reluctant to talk about family members in the police is due to the danger that they place themselves in. Two Catholic police officers are dead and others are seriously injured, some in life-changing ways. Family members of police officers have been targeted too. In my encounters with the police I’ve found that police officers take special care with not divulging too many details about their personal lives.

  • BluesJazz

    Ask any middle class family (non-military background) if they’re happy for son to join the Army-(or even RAF or Royal Navy) and they would be aghast. Even those who support the ‘help for heroes’ sortathing. And nor would many want their daughter to marry a squaddie.
    The Sandhurst Officer class is a different matter, many following a family tradition.
    The police are still regarded as a military offshoot (UDR) and under GOC command. Also MI5 are added into the mix and you have the ‘security forces’ bracket.
    They’re British to the core no matter if they play gaelic soccer for Waringstown parish. Fact.

  • babyface finlayson

    When you give an opinion and then stick the word ‘Fact’ on at the end it is still an opinion.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Given that SF and SDLP are both now actively encouraging people to join the police, it is going rather too far to lump them in with the rest of the “security forces”. The PSNI is, rightly or wrongly, somewhat de-fanged compared with the old RUC.

  • sonofstrongbow

    The PSNI is now much better equipped, including weaponry, than the “old RUC” ever was. Indeed it is now on a par with the London Met, the ‘gold standard’ in police bling within the UK.

    However it has been “de-fanged” in respect of its operational approach. As an organisation recruited along sectarian grounds and a very much ‘political’ police service (although not in the way Irish Republicans think) it has been reduced to senior officers making heartfelt appeals to criminals to desist and little more.

    The senior command of the PSNI is without a robust operational edge. It is not their fault as softly-softly catchee-nothing is the desired operational approach and they have been promoted to deliver it.

    Londonderry is a classic example of the PSNI’s failures. With RAAD on the rampage (and, God forbid, LAAD now a possibility elsewhere) the PSNI’s response is standing around dodging bombs and bricks thrown by a ‘supportive’ populace.

    Although, to be fair to the PSNI, it would be unthinkable for the police to have a different profile to the rest of the distasteful somnolence that is the ‘peace process’.

  • Comrade Stalin


    The police do not go after paramilitaries quite simply because they don’t have a pass from the politicians to do so. This has always been the case, since partition and before, and it applies as equally to unionists, who are less than enthusiastic about police action against loyalists, as it does to republicans who undoubtedly feel the hand of history in their shoulders when they think about calling for an all-out crackdown on the dissidents.

    You’ll note, for example, that while RAAD and so on have been going apeshit in Derry, loyalist disorder and lawbreaking has consistently gone unpunished and unchecked for years. A recent example is the incident in Ballyclare rioting a year ago where we were treated to the police dropping to their knees and grovelling an apology in front of the rioters who spent a night wrecking their own community in response to a perceived slight over a flag.

  • kathleenbernett

    babyface finlayson & Comrade Stalin, thank you for coming to my defense. I did not mean to aggravate anyone with my comments, only to understand. As for bullfrogbluesman, one can’t argue with closed minds, so I won’t try.