The Alliance Party has called for the replacement of 50:50 police recruitment quotas by a fairer form of affirmative action to address the imbalance in Catholic representation in the service.
The Party is responding to the NIO consultation on the renewal of the temporary provisions of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, regarding 50:50 recruitment arrangements.
Alliance Party Justice Spokesperson, Dr Stephen Farry commented:
“Alliance is fully committed to making the police more representative of the community as a whole. This is not simply a matter of increased Catholic recruitment, but attracting more female, ethnic minority, and gay and lesbian recruits. However, we believe that the use of quotas is contradictory to the ethos of an integrated service, is discriminatory, and in practice, unnecessary.
“In moving towards a shared and integrated society, it is important not to be seen as socially engineering outcomes, but rather to be facilitating choice, and encouraging participation from those who are under-represented.
“Considerable progress has been made in making the Police Service more representative of the community. Alliance would maintain that this is less to do with the use of these quotas than changes in political circumstances, and the long overdue support for the police from nationalist quarters.
“The problem with achieving a balanced police service in the past has not been discrimination at the point of selection, but achieving sufficient applications from Catholics. A quota is a tool to deal with the former, other measures can be developed to address the latter.
“Alliance has major reservations regarding the use of quotas, or any other method of recruitment other than on the basis of merit. This inevitably leads to individual cases of those of greater merit being passed over in order to maintain balance, and risks provoking a sense of grievance among those who are qualified but miss out.
“We propose that targets should be set for the recruitment of police officers from currently under-represented sections of society, and a strong programme of affirmative action measures, based on outreach programmes, should be used to achieve them.
“The use of the quota artificially caps the number of police that can be recruited at any one time, at twice the total number of Catholics who meet the minimum criteria. While at present, this may not be an issue due to limited training capacity, there is an urgent need to process new recruits to increase the number of active officers in an under strength police service.
“I understand that there has already been at least one case where a number of candidates from one category who had been selected for training withdrew, and an equivalent number of the other category were dropped. This is damaging to the urgent task of replacing retiring officers and equally damaging to the morale of recruits.
“In the event that the Government does not abolish the 50:50 quotas for police recruits straightaway, they should at the very least abolish their use for ancillary and support staff and set a deadline for their abolition in relation to uniformed officers.”