15 August 2023, The Tablet

Catholic officers face ‘particular difficulties’ over PSNI data breach

Police officers are targets for dissidents and many choose not to disclose their employment in their community.

Catholic officers face ‘particular difficulties’ over PSNI data breach

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne (left) leaves an emergency meeting of the Northern Ireland Policing Board.
PA Images / Alamy

Catholic officers in the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) face “particular difficulties” from last week’s data breach, according to their representative organisation.

The Catholic Police Guild of Northern Ireland, which represents a number of Catholic PSNI officers, demanded a “full response” from the force’s leadership, saying its members were now vulnerable to terrorist groups.

The accidental data breach revealed the details of 10,000 PSNI employees. These appeared online for several hours on 8 August and dissident republicans now claim to possess the information. Details of a smaller breach in July have since emerged.

Police officers are targets for dissidents and many choose not to disclose their employment in their community.

In the most serious recent attack, the senior detective John Caldwell was shot repeatedly as he left his son’s football practice in February, sustaining life-changing injuries.

Several officers have said that they will leave Northern Ireland after being compromised by the breach.

Supt Gerry Murray, the chair of the Catholic Police Guild, said it was “hard to think of a more pressing issue for Catholic officers and staff than the data breaches”, adding that it would have “implications…for potential new recruits from the Catholic community”.

He said that members “are worried for themselves and in many cases for their family members”.

Dissident republicans target Catholic officers to discourage members of the Catholic community from joining the historically-Protestant force.  

Although roughly 45 per cent of Northern Ireland’s population comes from a Catholic background, data from May this year said 32 per cent of PSNI officers were Catholics and only 26 per cent were from specifically Northern Irish Catholic backgrounds.

In 2001, when the PSNI was formed from the dissolved Royal Ulster Constabulary, Catholics made up just eight per cent of the force.

Supt Murray said he was “concerned about the impact on future recruitment of young Catholics into the police service”.  

He told the BBC that a young officer had contacted him for advice on whether to take a gun to Mass, adding: “I think, if he feels insecure with regard to going to his place of worship and he feels it necessary – yes.”

The Northern Ireland branch of the Catholic Police Guild was formed in 2020, and reorganised last year, to represent officers and encourage recruitment from the Catholic community.

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne met representative bodies including the guild last Friday. By then more than 600 people had already contacted a support service set up for those affected.

Supt Murray said: “The community background of police officers and staff has to be given the proportionate weight when considering the implications of this data breach on serving officers.”

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