Catholic officers losing confidence in RUC job policy

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The Independent Online
MIDDLE-RANKING Catholic members of the RUC say their confidence in the force is decreasing because of a fall in Catholic representation in both senior and junior ranks.

Several officers, who wish to remain anonymous, accuse the force's leaders of not being concerned enough with increasing - or even maintaining - levels of Catholic representation.

They say that retirement of a number of top-ranking Catholics means that there is only one Catholic among the most senior posts and the overall number of Catholics in the force is falling.

Most of their claims are countered by RUC sources, who say they are encouraged by an increase in Catholic applications. These sources maintain that great effort is being put into attracting Catholics, though for security reasons this cannot be spelt out.

The number of Catholics in the RUC has been a continuing problem for the authorities. The force has always been more than 90 per cent Protestant. Both the police and the authorities in general have traditionally said they want to see more Catholics in the ranks.

Middle-ranking Catholic officers say an unfortunate situation has arisen with only two Catholics now above the rank of chief superintendent, and one of these is due to retire in March. This is Deputy Chief Constable Michael McAtamney, an officer with more than 40 years' service.

Mr McAtamney has served as deputy to the present Chief Constable, Sir Hugh Annesley, and his predecessor, Sir John Hermon. The middle-ranking officers say he is respected and has served as something as a role model for Catholics in the lower ranks.

Another Catholic officer recently retired with the rank of Assistant Chief Constable after holding high-profile posts as officer in charge of Belfast and head of complaints and discipline. Only 2 of the top 14 posts are now held by Catholics. One of these was born a Protestant but is believed to have converted.

The middle-ranking officers argue that imbalances could be off- set by making sure that Catholics receive prominent posts. One said: 'The RUC needs to send the message to the Catholic community that people from it will not be held back, for whatever reason.'

It is recognised that change can only come slowly. The force has more than 8,000 regular members together with a reserve force of 4,500. Last year it recruited 180 regulars and 260 reservists.

Recruitment figures for 1992 are substantially up, with the Government sanctioning an extra 441 officers to deal with the terrorist problem. It is not known how many of this intake are Catholics, though it is claimed the number of Catholic applications has increased.

It is recognised that Catholics have shied away from the RUC, not least because joining makes them a target for IRA assassination. About 25 Catholic members of the force have been killed during the troubles. This means that Catholic members cannot live in Catholic areas, which often leads to family disruption. However, the level of Catholic satisfaction with the RUC's performance does appear to have risen slightly in recent years.