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28 October 2004 Edition

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PSNI's equality hypocrisy

Trickery as much as thuggery was a hallmark of the discredited RUC, but despite the fact that the Patten report has yet to be fully implemented, some have claimed the PSNI represented a break with the past.

But information which emerged last week suggests that when it comes to maintaining the sectarian imbalance within the force, the PSNI has a few tricks up its sleeve as well. Recently, the PSNI announced a new affirmative action initiative to address the serious underrepresentation of women within its ranks.

The PSNI's Gender Action Plan (GAP) was drawn up earlier this year and has rightly been endorsed by both the Policing Board and the Equality Commission. GAP's recommendations include the introduction of welcoming statements, action plans, the possibility of introducing women-only leadership training programmes and the identification of any barriers within the promotion process.

Accompanying the PSNI's commitment to addressing gender imbalance has been the compilation of statistical material to inform analysis and targets.

The statistics provided to inform the GAP project identified the deployment of women officers throughout the PSNI. They provided unprecedented detailed information about gender in relation to initial recruitment, deployment by each district command unit, membership within departments, every special unit and within each promotional rank.

GAP describes the initiative in terms of a 'vision' in which the PSNI will now seek to "recruit, retain, promote and deploy females" throughout the force, a commendable objective by anyone's standards.

Given this apparent sudden enthusiasm for addressing imbalance within the PSNI, it is all the more curious that there is not so much as a whiff of a similar initiative to address the religious imbalance within the force. This is despite the fact it is widely accepted that the transformation of policing in the north depended upon it renouncing its traditional sectarian allegiance to one community.

But it has now emerged that the PSNI has no intention of introducing any similar affirmative action initiative to address the underrepresentation of Catholics. Indeed, a spokesperson for the PSNI admitted that the force doesn't even keep figures for the breakdown of Catholics and non-Catholics and it only engages in "service-wide monitoring" of Catholic underrepresentation.

Of course, addressing gender imbalance is a commendable objective in itself, but the political cynics amongst us might suggest that the PSNI is more enthusiastic about addressing gender precisely because it poses less of a threat to its more traditional ethos.


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