Northern Ireland’s police chief has said he takes heart from the huge numbers applying to become officers against the backdrop of the threat posed by dissident republicans.
George Hamilton hailed the latest batch of recruits to pass through training as the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) reached the milestone of its 100th graduating class since the organisation was formed in 2001.
Mr Hamilton said he would like to see more Catholics join the service in the future but insisted the current 32% representation marked huge progress from the less than 10% in the old Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).
“I would like to see if 50%, I would like to see it truly reflective of Northern Ireland society, but I don’t see us moving backwards - we will continue to work hard at this,” he said.
He also claimed progress in terms of gender balance, noting that of the 47 new officers graduating on Friday, 20 were women.
“Fifteen years on, this organisation has been built and transformed from what it was and I am very proud of that,” he said.
As he attended the graduation ceremony at the PSNI college in Garnerville, east Belfast, Mr Hamilton insisted would-be recruits were not being put off by threats posed by violent extremists.
The police has characterised the threat against members of the security forces in Northern Ireland as the “upper end of severe”. Meanwhile, in recent days, one officer’s personal details were posted on-line by loyalists angry at the police’s handling of a parading disturbance in south Belfast.
Mr Hamilton expressed confidence recruitment was not being impacted by fringe elements committing “mad and unacceptable” acts.
“Every time we advertise we get close to 5,000 people applying for what’s generally between 200 and 400 jobs, so the labour market is such that people across Northern Ireland are willing to put themselves forward to serve their communities and I take heart from that,” he said.
He added: “I take great heart from the courage the bravery and dedication of PSNI officers who every day put on a uniform and go out to keep people safe - that’s what we are about and that’s what we get a buzz out of and I am really proud that we are able to do that.”
Anne Connolly, chair of the PSNI’s oversight body, the NI Policing Board, said there was no difficulty attracting people to the PSNI.
“We get numerous applications, we can’t cope with all of the people that want to come in - that’s a really good sign,” she said.
The graduating student officers entered the police training college in October and have completed five months intensive training.
The officers will now complete a probationary period for two years during which time they will be mentored for one year.
Since the inception of the PSNI there have been a total of 4,576 officers who have graduated.
The first squad of PSNI officers graduated at Garnerville on April 5 2002.
Stormont Justice Minister David Ford congratulated the 100th class.
“I warmly congratulate those student officers who have successfully completed their training,” he said.
“This is the beginning of what I trust will be a long and rewarding career in the Police Service of Northern Ireland, with the opportunity to make a real difference to the people they serve.
“Policing is a profession which offers many rewards and the role of a police officer is one in which the public places a high level of trust. It is also a role with many expectations and demands, but with the satisfaction of knowing that each contribution matters. I wish the new officers every success in the future.”