With 80% of police recruits now coming from the Unionist community, is this another example of how Northern Ireland is regressing?

The Irish Times is reporting that the number of Nationalists joining the PSNI is continuing to decline, and they may need to reinstate the 50/50 recruitment policy.

Four out of five recruits to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) are from the Protestant community compared to just one from the Catholic community, the PSNI has disclosed.

If this trend continues then politicians will have to consider reinstituting the 50:50 Catholic:Protestant system of recruitment, the PSNI deputy chief constable Stephen Martin indicated on Monday.

Under the 50:50 recruitment system the number of Catholics in the police grew from 8 per cent when the Royal Ulster Constabulary transitioned into the PSNI in 2001 to 32 per cent at present.

When the number of Catholics in the PSNI reached just under 30 per cent in 2011 that system was ended.

There are many factors at play here. The dissident threat is obviously top of the list. Most Nationalists joining the PSNI pretty much have to give up everything – they can’t live in a Nationalist area, they may have to give up their sport and other social interests, their families and friends are intimidated.

There is also no culture of joining the police in Nationalist society. But Unionists have a massive tradition of serving in the police and armed forces. Slugger contributor and academic Gladys Ganiel has described this tradition as part of a wider ‘British Armed Forces culture of militarism’ within the Unionist community. A culture of militarism includes discourses, images, symbols and rituals, as well as social-structural aspects like how institutions such as schools, churches, businesses, fraternal organisations, sporting associations, scouting associations, etc. reproduce militarism – embedding it in societies and politics.

Today, as well as supplying the vast majority of our police service, something like 20% of the reserve forces that deploy in service of the UK come from Northern Ireland. Many Protestant Churches are festooned with flags and memorials to police officers killed, alongside those killed in foreign wars.  It is easier to consider joining the police if your mum/dad, uncle, neighbour etc served. Joining the police is alien to most Nationalists. If a Nationalist wanted to be a police officer, the Guards or another UK force would be a better option.

Also, the pay is not great. You start out at £23k. Would you seriously risk your life for that? I would not want that grief. There is a huge skills shortage across Northern Ireland. You can walk into an IT job or similar that pays more money and with zero risk of anyone trying to stick a bomb under your car.

What can the police do? They can try to restore 50/50 but this will still not resolve the issues listed above. I can’t see the issue improving anytime soon.

On a wider scale, I do wonder is this another sign of how Northern Ireland is regressing? No Assembly, a one-sided police force, the looming Brexit clusterf*ck: things are looking very grim. The centre ground continues to disengage from civic life. The ship is drifting, but will it hit the rocks?


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