Lord Laird has presented a Private Member’s Bill in the House of
Lords, to abolish the application of a 50/50 Catholic/non-Catholic
recruitment policy of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and has
written an opinion piece for the Belfast Telegraph.
Of course, as a Yank, I’m opposed to any application of recruitment
quotas, as it removes the premise of merit. I do recognise historical
under-representation, thus I support affirmative action (which says
that given two equally qualified applicants, preference is given to the
My objection to the 50/50 Catholic/non-Catholic quota is that any
non-Catholic applicant, however well qualified, will only be accepted
if a satisfactory Catholic applicant is found. This is anti-merit. It
also has perverse effects in the recruitment of other minorities, e.g.
women and ethnic minorities (which I also support affirmative action
Lest you think that those opposed to the 50/50 quota scheme are
unionists resistant to change, at the last SDLP annual party
conference, Denis Bradley, member of the Northern Ireland Policing
Board, said that this scheme will need to end.
Why the 50/50 rule must be abolished
Lord laird: there is no legal precedent for quotas
02 February 2006
Lord Laird of Artigarvan who presented a Private Members’ Bill into
the House of Lords to abolish religious discrimination in police
recruitment spells out what it will entail
THE Government of Ireland Act 1920 – which established Northern
Ireland – prohibited discriminatory legislation. The Stormont
parliament never provided for religious discrimination. That began with
the Patten report’s 50/50 recommendation, enacted in the Police
(Northern Ireland) Act 2000, a measure I am now seeking to repeal at
I do not believe the Royal Ulster Constabulary discriminated against
Roman Catholics – 8% in 1998 was too low, but senior officers were over
16% Roman Catholic. Why would the RUC have discriminated in recruitment
but not in promotion?
I think there were three reasons for that 8% statistic: one,
republican intimidation; two, social ostracism by Roman Catholics; and
three, political abstentionism.
The proportion of Roman Catholics has increased since 1999; 36% of
applicants are now from the minority community. But this has to do with
the Belfast Agreement in general and in particular the SDLP taking
responsibility for policing. Patten’s 50/50 was not necessary and has
not worked. This is proved by the fact that 38% of new recruits are
female: an increase achieved with a non-discriminatory action plan.
There is no legal precedent for quotas in the United States or the
European Union. Not even the Committee on the Administration of Justice
called for 50/50. Patten said he took advice from the equality industry
and from legal counsel. No one has identified the givers of this
incorrect advice. Patten said Europe would not object to religious
discrimination. Wrong. The prohibition was envisaged in a treaty, and
emerged in an equal treatment directive in November 1999.
The objection to 50/50 is simply that it involves direct religious
discrimination, otherwise banned in a series of laws from 1973.
The pragmatic argument is that it does not work.
Say the police want to recruit 200 trainees. If 50 Roman Catholics
and 150 Protestants get through to the pool on merit, only 50 Roman
Catholics and 50 Protestants may be recruited. There is 50%
under-recruitment. It does not matter how able the Roman Catholics are
or not; and Protestants of ability have been rejected because they are
of the wrong religion.
That has been the story with each of the recruitment competitions.
But one – which the NIO does not like to discuss – went the other way.
There was a majority of Roman Catholics in the pool. But the police
could only take twice the number of Protestants. A system designed to
fast track Roman Catholics ended up discriminating against Roman
My Police (Northern Ireland) Bill – which had its first reading on
Monday (January 16) – does two things. One, it abolishes Patten’s
quotas. It does not end the renewable temporary provisions. And two, it
empowers the policing board and Chief Constable to make action plans
for ‘Roman Catholics, women, ethnic minorities and any other relevant
The bill will be debated in the Lords in coming months, with no
input from the SDLP and Sinn Fein. It should then go to the Commons.
The Government has its whips and the payroll vote there. But there is a
recent precedent for an oppositional all-party alliance. It will be
interesting to see how the nationalists divide.
Patten’s 50/50 should never have made it into law. Unfortunately,
Peter Mandelson got a Northern Ireland opt-out in the equal treatment
directive in 2000. But that was probably too clever by half.
That is why I have again called for rejected trainees -Roman
Catholic or Protestant – to come forward. Lawyers are ready to go to
the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. Their arguments are about
unconstitutionality in European law.
No doubt the Government will try and hold the line, egged on by
Dublin. But “you cannot harm the peace process” has become a
discredited, unthinking mantra. A combination of a court case in
Europe, and a Private Member’s Bill in the Lords, in a context where
Blair and Hain are seeking to put Sinn Fein in charge of either the
courts or the police could see the policing issue take a progressive
route and not one so obviously contrary to the rule of law.
The Lord Laird of Artigarvan is a cross bench member of the House of Lords and a member of the Ulster Unionist Party.