Catholic PSNI officer ‘had to cut ties with family’

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A Catholic PSNI officer from Londonderry has had to cut ties with members of his own family after joining up, he said.

The officer said he joined the PSNI after being critical of the police in his youth.

The officer, who has remained anonymous said he “weighed up my options” before joining the PSNI.

“I have to make sacrifices,” he said.

“Once you join up as someone from Derry it is very hard to socialise with your family, or come back into the city.

“I’m sure I do face prejudice but I am thick skinned and stubborn, I don’t really worry about that, I just move on.”

The fear of attack remains a constant concern for potential Catholic recruits, he said.

“The issue we have here is people are afraid, lots of people talk to us and say they want to do the job, but they are afraid of the comeback, with their family living in Derry,” he told the BBC.

The families of two police officers were targetted by hoax bomb alerts in Londonderry earlier this year.

He added: “When we are out there you have to be switched on, ready to react, things happen in a heartbeat, and you have always to be prepared for that.”

The possibility of an attack on his family does cross his mind.

“I have been fortunate that my family has never been targeted, but that is not to say ever. It is part of the reason why you have to cut ties, not socialise with them or call home,” he said.

NI’s political stalemate does not help, he said.

“If they can not sort it out at Stormont, how can we ever expect to sort it out here at grass roots level?”

He said challenging the attitudes of young people could affect change.

“Young ones today still have the same attitude that older people have,” he said.

“As police officers we get it from both side, in terms of hearing ‘you are always picking on us, never on the other side’.

“You have to start integrating schools, because at the end of the day we all support the same teams, like the same things, watch the same television programmes. The only difference is if you go to a church or chapel, and that shouldn’t be a major issue,” he added.

The PSNI officer was speaking to BBC Radio Foyle as part of series looking at the challenges facing the police in the north west.

Last year, former Policing Board vice chair Denis Bradley told the News Letter that PSNI officers are mainly still unable to live in nationalist areas across Northern Ireland.

The Londonderry man was speaking in the wake of an under-bomb car attack by dissident republicans on an officer in Ardanlee in the Culmore area of the city in March 2017.

Mr Bradley said he was “surprised” that a police officer had been living in the area as it was a “nationalist” part of Londonderry.

He added: “Going back a few years there was a relevant PSNI policy – I am not sure if it was formal or informal – for young nationalist officers not to buy homes too much in their original areas and not to stay too long at their parents’ homes when visiting.”

In reality he is “not sure there is a distinction between republican or nationalist areas” regarding threat levels, but “it is certainly true along the border, plus in Belfast” that Catholic officers generally do not live in nationalist areas. The same situation also applies to nationalist areas of Londonderry. Only in central areas such as mid-Tyrone do Catholic police officers live in nationalist areas, he said.

However, he was deeply saddened on joining the Policing Board to find officers no longer living in loyalist areas either.

The implication is that PSNI officers live in predominantly unionist or at least mixed areas.

Across the British Isles, officers normally move to middle-class areas after joining up, he added.

Dissident attacks on Catholic PSNI officers in nationalist areas have included Ryan Crozier at Castlederg in 2008, Peadar Heffron near Randalstown in 2010 and Ronan Kerr who died after an attack in Omagh in 2011.

Police Federation chairman Mark Lindsay said dissidents are a real threat in both nationalist and unionist areas.

“There is now a lot more acceptance of officers in areas not traditionally seen as comfortable with them, for example rural areas of Tyrone, Fermanagh and Londonderry,” he said. “Nowadays more officers are reluctant to move away from the areas they are from, unless there is an obvious danger to their families.”

The PSNI said it was “not true” that Catholic officers normally cannot live in nationalist areas. Officers must make formal applications to live in their chosen area, it added.

ACC Alan Todd said: “We encourage and support our officers’ preference to live in the community or neighbourhood of their choosing. Where security issues arise we will always provide the appropriate advice and guidance.”

A 50-50 Protestant-Catholic recruitment policy ran for the first ten years of the PSNI, until 2011. This saw the number of Catholic police officers increase from 8% to 31%.

Earlier this year the PSNI said they are considering reintroducing 50:50 once again.