Monday, 16 November 2015

Time for a Bilingual PSNI

Recent weeks have seen concern expressed that, in the absence of 50/50 recruitment, the PSNI is gradually, like its predecessor the RUC, becoming dangerously unrepresentative of the population (remembering that, in the target recruitment cohort, it is now Catholics rather than Protestants who predominate).

In the Blether Region's view, opposing 50/50 recruitment, as Justice Minister David Ford has done, is a mistake, and one that betrays a doctrinaire emphasis on what Northern Ireland should be rather than what it is or, more negatively, threatens to become. Put bluntly, 50/50 recruitment is important because it keeps people alive, both within and without the police. It keeps Northern Ireland stable and lets people get on with their daily lives and business.

Yet there is an alternative to recruitment quotas, and one that comes at zero cost to the tax-payer. Last month Police Scotland launched a consultation on the incremental adoption of bilingual branding. Some people will have their doubts at whether such a change could really be achieved without public expense, but a much more ambitious re-branding involving place-names was achieved by ScotRail a few years ago at a cost of thousands rather than tens of thousands.

If Scotland, as seems very likely, finds itself with a bilingually branded police force in a few years' time, Northern Ireland will be the only Celtic part of the UK to be English-only, since Wales and Cornwall (yes, Cornwall) have already taken the bilingual route.

A cost-free re-branding in Northern Ireland could help save lives. It would, as we have seen, make Norn Iron not only more like the south but more like Great Britain. And it might also prove a good way for the Alliance Party to redeem itself from its policy errors.

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