Alliance Party Justice Spokesperson, Stephen Farry, has said the Government should concern itself with getting more police on the beat, rather than worrying about what religious denomination recruits were.
Earlier this week, Oversight Commissioner Tom Constantine revealed that initiatives to reassign officers from bureaucratic duties and encourage the civilianisation of other posts “have not been thoroughly pursued”, and Chief Constable Hugh Orde warned that efforts to boost police numbers were being hampered by a poor response from the Catholic community to a recruitment drive for civilian posts.
Stephen Farry stated: “If we are to truly make progress to a normal society, we have to get away from this concept that all our people are divided into two mutually antagonistic groups. Not everyone is either a unionist or a nationalist, a Protestant or a Catholic.
“While it is quite understandable that special efforts were suggested to increase Catholic recruitment to the new police service, Alliance firmly believes that the rigid quota system places more importance on a perceived religious background instead of the merits of the candidate. Alliance supports targets and an affirmative action programme, which would not have caused the current recruiting crisis.
“Northern Ireland urgently needs to see high level of recruitment of new, well qualified civilian recruits for desk-based duties. The restrictive 50/50 quota is preventing these posts from being filled, at a time when our greatest need is to get more ‘bobbies on the beat’.
“Alliance questions the appropriateness of the 50/50 quota system even being applied to civilian posts – there is no quota system in place for the private business sector or the civil service, after all.
“The 50/50 quota, particularly for administrative posts, should be abandoned.
“Furthermore, any threat against Catholic recruits joining the PSNI should be withdrawn. The biggest obstacle of all, however, is Sinn Fein’s refusal to sit on the Policing Board, and republicans should consider the effect their non-participation is having on Catholic recruitment.
“Police numbers are well below the Patten recommendations, and that is affecting both effectiveness and morale. There are only 6,900 officers doing the work of the 7,500 men and women Patten recommended, and sickness levels are high. Yet when 260 people recently applied for civilian posts, only 52 could be employed, as only 26 Catholics applied.
“While I would thoroughly encourage more Catholics to apply for PSNI jobs, it would be extremely damaging if suitable non-Catholic recruits fail to find jobs because the desire to preserve a sectional balance means that recruitment is slower than it should be.”