Catholics ignoring recruitment drive says police chief

Urgent efforts to increase police patrols in Northern Ireland have been hit by a dismal response from Catholics to a new recruitment drive, Chief Constable Hugh Orde disclosed today.

Urgent efforts to increase police patrols in Northern Ireland have been hit by a dismal response from Catholics to a new recruitment drive, Chief Constable Hugh Orde disclosed today.

Amid escalating fears of a Christmas bombing campaign by dissident terrorists, plans to combat the threat have been dealt a major blow by the 50-50 religious employment rules.

Only 10% of successful applications for clerical posts in the latest stage of a civilization programme designed to free desk-bound officers were from Catholics.

Mr Orde said: : “The facts are quite stark. We had 26 successful people from the Catholic community and around 250 non-Catholics.

“That means I can only recruit 52 and it makes it harder. It’s going to take a lot longer than I had hoped because of 50-50.”

As he marked his 100th day in charge of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the former Metropolitan Police man said some stations might be closed to get more officers on the beat.

“We have got far too many police properties for a population of 1.5 million people,” he said.

“I have got 190 different locations. We need to ask hard questions around do people want police in stations or do they want them out on patrol?

“There’s nothing more emotive than closing police stations, but these are the hard choices we have to make.”

Since he arrived in Belfast, Mr Orde has overseen the raids on a suspected IRA spy-ring inside the government, and had to deal with the ongoing loyalist paramilitary murder campaign.

The PSNI chief said the job was different to what he had expected, adding that too much time was spent dealing with internal management “side shows“.

But with the row over Special Branch commander Bill Lowry’s sudden departure from the force rumbling on, Mr Orde insisted all movement at senior rank was his decision alone.

Mr Lowry headed the operation against alleged IRA intelligence-gathering which saw Sinn Fein’s administration chief Denis Donaldson arrested and led to the Stormont power-sharing Assembly being suspended in October.

Following his retirement he lodged an official complaint with the Northern Ireland Policing Board amid claims of political intervention in the affair.

But Mr Orde insisted: “No one from government has ever tried to influence that, raised it with me or discussed it.

“Even if they did I would take absolutely no notice of it. These are operational decisions.

“I take full responsibility for anything around Bill Lowry. If he’s lumpy he’s lumpy with me. But there was not any frosty meeting with Billy Lowry. It never took place.”

Despite claims that the IRA is compiling new dossiers of information, the Chief Constable was convinced that it had no current plans to go back to war.

Instead, police were focused on preventing rogue republicans in the Real IRA and Continuity IRA from planting more explosives, like last month’s abortive firebomb attack in Belfast city centre.

“The threat is high,” Mr Orde said.

“Every officer I have available is out on the street – but it’s the only way of stopping people blowing things up.

“There are major operations running at the minute, which I won’t go into detail about, to prevent dissident activity.”

On top of that, he has to keep under surveillance loyalist paramilitaries who shot dead three men during a vicious feud in October.

When he took over the PSNI he vowed to put the terror chiefs behind bars.

Although several loyalist operations have been disrupted, only the Ulster Defence Association’s North Belfast commander, Andre Shoukri, has been captured.

Mr Orde accepted that more arrests are needed but was confident they would come.

“The more pressure you put these people under the more stupid they get,” he said.

“I would love to have all the big names taken out. But we are getting into their ribs.”

Threats to target police officers if the current clamp-down on loyalists continued show the paramilitaries were on the back-foot, he said.

“It’s a question of whose army is bigger, their army or my army.

“Well, I’m not going away and my people aren’t going away. That shows they are beginning to get even more upset – and we will keep going.”

After touring every station in Northern Ireland over the last three months, Mr Orde is now fighting to get better working conditions for his officers.

It would take well over £100m (€1.5m) of government cash to put things right, he claimed.

“Lots of police buildings are in a bad shape. The working conditions for my people in many places are not good.

“The hygiene factor has to be addressed and the fact we haven’t got a police college is a disgrace.”

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