Crumbling police estate and dissident republicans undermining attempts to boost recruitment
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has warned that its latest recruitment campaign may be derailed by budget shortfalls as Catholics have been told they face being attacked if they join the police.
Chief Constable Simon Byrne, speaking to the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Committee for Justice on Thursday (February 13), warned that a £53 million deficit could mean plans to boost officer numbers to 7,500 will have to be reversed.
This money is needed, he said, to keep the PSNI “standing still” in the current financial year. But even more is required to upgrade an ageing police estate.
Buildings need urgent modernisation and permanent offices found to replace the 180 portacabins, some of which are in a poor condition, currently being used on a daily basis.
The 200-year-old Enniskillen Police Station needs to be relocated outside the town and no new site has been found for the new force headquarters.
The PSNI has had to delay decommissioning some buildings with high security measures as costs were excessive.
Mr Byrne confirmed that the recent campaign to recruit 600 officers had resulted in 3,750 applications, 40 per cent of which were from women.
However, Mr Byrne said reaching the agreed target of 7,500 officer establishment was likely to take three years but he may cease recruitment if budgetary concerns are not addressed.
“If our budget isn’t resolved, the only thing we can start to look at is to cease recruitment or slow down recruitment and actually turn that tap off while we try and rebalance the organisation and that clearly can have some severe consequences,” he said.
“On one hand, our ask for 600 more police officers could actually end up in a reverse situation if we aren’t able to reverse the budgetary pressures we’re facing at the moment.”
The campaign is heavily weighted to provide an equal number of Catholic and Protestant recruits but dissident republicans have attempted to dissuade Catholics by threatening them with violence.
Posters featuring a picture of Peadar Heffron, a former police constable who had to have his leg amputated after being severely injured in an under-car booby trap, appeared in the Derry/Londonderry area on Tuesday (February 11).
The Catholic officer and captain of the PSNI’s Gaelic football team at the time was left in a wheelchair by the bomb planted by dissident Republicans in Randalstown in January 2010.
The posters contained a warning that anyone thinking of joining the police could suffer similar injuries.
Deputy Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said: “These posters can only be described as cruel and disgusting and have clearly been created by those who fear a fully representative police service.
“The cowards who hide behind this fake rhetoric and who ridicule the resolve, commitment and bravery of every person who works every day to keep each of you safe, have nothing to offer our society and should be condemned by all right-thinking people.”
The Committee for Justice hearing also discussed the impact that failure to agree a pay rise for police officers is having on recruitment.
Officers in England and Wales were awarded a 2.5 per cent increase in September but, due to the lack of a devolved administration, their Northern Ireland colleagues have not received an award.
Mr Byrne said: “People are feeling let down. When they see cheques being written in England and Wales there is a real sense of disappointment.”
The committee agreed to write to the Department of Finance and the Department of Justice to “stimulate some activity”.