Police chief plays down reintroduction of positive discrimination recruitment

Reintroducing the controversial 50/50 policy to boost Catholic recruitment in the PSNI would be premature, Simon Byrne has said.

The new chief constable said he was keen to examine other approaches to increase the numbers joining from the nationalist community before consideration was given to the positive-discrimination tool.

Mr Byrne said he wanted to explore innovative tactics that have paid dividends elsewhere, such as targeted pro-active approaches, via email, alerting would-be Catholic officers to recruitment opportunities.

The 50/50 policy – which ensured an equal number of Protestant and Catholics were recruited – was recommended by Lord Patten as part of peace process policing reforms to address the historic under-representation of officers from a nationalist background.

The policy helped drive significant change, increasing the percentage of Catholic officers from 8% to over 30%, but it drew much criticism from unionist politicians.

The measure ended in 2011, but a recent downturn in the number of Catholic recruits joining the service – a trend linked to the dissident republican threat against them and their families – has prompted calls for its reintroduction.

Mr Byrne said it was too early to bring back 50/50. “I think that’s premature frankly,” he told PA.

“It was a product of its time, post-Patten. And in another place, I have called is it time to look at that in England, whenever we have had issues for example in recruiting black officers.

“But I think here before we take that step into legislation change and positive discrimination, it’s about revisiting what we have done in the past, perhaps bringing some fresh thinking.

“For example I know in South Wales Police they have used issues where they will email people details about recruitment campaigns if they fit certain profiles and are interested in policing. So whether that be from the Catholic community maybe working class communities other ethnic minorities.

“So it’s about keeping your eyes open for good ideas elsewhere, as well as making sure what we’ve done here well in the past is repeated.”

Acknowledging the need to build confidence in policing in nationalist communities, Mr Byrne said he wanted to invest and rethink the approach to community policing.

He said he also wanted to see politicians and serving PSNI officers become “advocates” for policing as a positive career choice.

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