The practice of 50:50 recruitment originated with the report of the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland, which was chaired by former Conservative MP Chris Patten, and was part of the Belfast Agreement. The rport was published on 9 September 1999 and contained 175 recommendations, of which this was one.
The following are extracts from the Denis Bradley article.
The Catholic Church and the SDLP have already set out their stall. I haven't noticed anything yet from Sinn Fein or the Irish government but I am assuming that they will join that consensus.
The Protestant Churches and the unionist parties will vehemently oppose a temporary extension of that policy. The nationalist/Catholic argument will be that it is still too early to remove the procedure.
The Protestant/unionist argument is that it is a policy that discriminates against their sons and daughters.
Even if a recruitment drive attracts people from the Protestant community, their chances of getting the job are reduced. They will get through or fail to get through to the final pool on merit but their chances of getting the job are reduced because they come from the wrong religion.
It was a policy introduced under the Patten review to ensure that more people from the Catholic community would be appointed to the police service.
Historically, 92 per cent of the police came from the Protestant community and only eight per cent from the Catholic side. Clearly this was unsustainable within a new political and policing dispensation.
To ensure that the newly established PSNI would be more representative of the population, Patten recommended that 50:50 be established until roughly 30 per cent of the police came from the Catholic community. The report estimated that it would take about 10 years to get to those percentages. While there was some wriggle room in the report, the thrust was that when those percentages were achieved, merit alone should be the entrance qualification. But there was a strong challenge to the nationalist/republican community to encourage their sons and daughters to join the new police service. Our memory is strong about the 50:50 aspect of the report; not so strong on the responsibility aspect.
While thousands of Catholics have successfully applied to join the new service, the average number of those applying remains at about 35 percent as against the 45 per cent which would better reflect the population. The Catholic representation has already reached more than 29 per cent and while I can already feel the arrows in my back, I am of the view that 50:50 should be discontinued. The various and divergent arguments will be well rehearsed in the coming months and there will be merit in many of the arguments. They will be well meaning and passionate on both sides. but they are unlikely to address the elephant in the room. They are unlikely to admit that we are continuing to sectarianise this society.
An extension of 50:50 will not worsen anything in itself except for the young Protestant who feels he didn't get a fair deal. But it will expose the reality that we all want to become free of bigotry but not yet.