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Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down) (SDLP): The subject of 50:50 recruitment is very emotive, but it must be put into a particular context. The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) has said that the recruitment of members of the Catholic community to the then RUC was prohibited by the IRA, but that ignores the fact that before the campaign of violence by the IRA, the number of Catholics in the RUC was very small and totally disproportionate to the community structure.

4.15 pm

I say to those who favour the abolition of 50:50 recruitment that before the IRA's campaign of violence, there was a chill factor in the Catholic community, which believed that the RUC was a Protestant police force for a Protestant Parliament for a Protestant people. The Patten investigation into how the police in Northern Ireland could be fully supported by both communities and proportionately represented by both communities led to 50:50 recruitment, but it was not the only body to make that suggestion. In its third report on 8 July 1998, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee stated:

Lady Hermon: Will the hon. Gentleman reflect on the impact of the rule imposed not by the Unionist parties
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or the RUC, but by the Gaelic Athletic Association, which excluded from any of its sports those who courageously joined the Royal Ulster Constabulary?

Mr. McGrady: I am sorry, but I did not catch the kernel of the hon. Lady's question.

Lady Hermon: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for asking for clarification. He has referred to "a chill factor", but a huge chill factor was generated by the GAA in discriminating against those who courageously joined the RUC to follow a career in policing. Will he comment on the effect of the GAA rule?

Mr. McGrady: That was GAA rule 21, which was ignored in practice. The GAA did not and does not reflect the Catholic population—it is a sector of it.

Irrespective of that issue, I have described the attitude of the Catholic communities in Northern Ireland. In March 2001, Catholic representation in the regular officer corps was 8.3 per cent. The current figure is more than 19 per cent. That is a good increase following the application of the 50:50 rule.

I can understand the problem that that appears to create for the Protestant community, but I hope that they would agree that the relatively huge, if not yet proportionate, increase in the Catholic population within the new PSNI is giving a new dimension to policing right across the communities. That support from the Catholic community is increasing daily as its members gain confidence in enlisting for the new police service.

Mr. Gregory Campbell: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the changes in the composition of the police that he is describing would be occurring anyway because of the greater influx of applicants from the Roman Catholic community? We do not need this false 50:50 rule to bring about a change that is occurring naturally in the absence of an IRA campaign of intimidation against those who join.

Mr. McGrady: Between 2001 and 2003, the percentage increased from just over 8 per cent. to about 20 per cent. That was brought about primarily by the application of Patten, including the 50:50 recruitment policy, and people wishing to leave the service. How could the huge imbalance of the Catholic population in the police service have been addressed without radical action? It would take generations of natural wastage, and as a community we could not afford to wait for that to happen

There is an insinuation that inferior candidates have qualified for the PSNI and are now on the streets as police officers. That is completely incorrect. Every new recruit who becomes a police officer in the PSNI is fully qualified in every respect. The PSNI has the highest standards in terms of the quality of recruits, whether Catholic, Protestant or neither, and that is reflected in the high success rate of its officers.
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Mr. Peter Robinson: Will the hon. Gentleman nevertheless accept that some serving police officers are less qualified than those who have been refused admittance to the force?

Mr. McGrady: There is a small element of that, but it is a price worth paying for getting a first-class service that is representative of all communities.

The figures show that 3,879 suitably qualified candidates were rejected, but only 440 to 540 were rejected because of 50:50, depending on which tranche it was. It was nothing to do with whether the applicants were Catholic or Protestant. Following over-subscription by highly qualified young people from our community, those numbers of suitably qualified candidates did not get positions because there simply were not the positions for them. A small element of that may have been discriminatory against Protestants.

Dr. McCrea: If the hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that the best persons are getting the posts because they are the best persons, what is the need for 50:50?

Mr. McGrady: The 50:50 rule is there for the obvious reason that we must ensure that the Catholic population, which the hon. Gentleman must admit was grossly under-represented, is represented within a reasonable time frame. The figure has reached about 20 per cent. According to Patten, the 50:50 rule was to continue until about 30 per cent. of regular officers were from the Catholic community. At the current rate, it will take approximately four or five years—perhaps to the end of the fiscal year 2010–11—to achieve that 30 per cent. The Catholic population is much more than 30 per cent. but the 50:50 rule will be re-examined at that point.

Ulster Unionist and Democratic Unionist Members have made much of the apparently huge discrimination against young Protestant men and women who apply to the PSNI. That is not happening. There is some disadvantage but it is much less than hon. Members make out. Surely even UUP and DUP Members want a police service in Northern Ireland that reflects both communities and is endorsed and fully supported by them. If we want to achieve that in a reasonable time frame, there appears to be no other way of doing so.

There had to be a derogation from the European convention on human rights because of the marginal element of discrimination. However, I emphasise that it is a small element in the total rejections, and that can be proved. In accepting the slight element, we achieve the much greater benefit, even though some have made a sacrifice, of a police service that is fully representative of and fully supported by the communities so that, for the first time, young police officers can reside in some Catholic communities, just as they are returning to reside in some Protestant communities.

Dr. McCrea: Does the hon. Gentleman understand what he is saying? He says that there is discrimination against those who should have, as a right, the ability to join the forces of law and order. He underestimates the hurt that that causes. Their religious persuasion is the only reason why they are being refused. If that was happening to his friends, he would not be happy about it.

Mr. McGrady: The point is that they are not being discriminated against because they are Protestants but
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because of the application of the 50:50 rule, which is trying to achieve an overall balance and equality between the communities. If we went for the hon. Gentleman's suggestion, the inequality between the communities would be perpetuated. [Interruption.] I know that I am repeating myself, but if hon. Members genuinely want a police service for Northern Ireland that reflects the best of our young men and women from both communities, they should not pursue the amendments. Accepting them would mean that the whole matter would stop dead in its tracks. That is not the way forward. I ask them sincerely to accept the marginal disadvantage to a small number of people, difficult as it may be, as the price for the greater prize of a totally acceptable police force.

I can say nothing more. Statistics can prove anything—they are everywhere—but the application of the 50:50 rule is achieving, on target, what was accepted from the Patten recommendations. It will be successful if it is allowed to continue and is supported by the DUP and the UUP. I should like to believe that that will happen. Otherwise, the position will become entrenched again and we will make no progress.

4.30 pm

Mrs. Iris Robinson: I think that the hon. Gentleman is a little guilty of rewriting history. Does he accept that in the past, Roman Catholics have not been encouraged to participate in anything to do with Crown forces? Does he also accept that if Roman Catholics did apply to join the RUC, they immediately became a target for terrorist groups and even had to forgo visiting their families if they joined? This is not about deliberate discrimination against the Roman Catholic community. That community excluded itself from joining the RUC for many years.

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