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9 August 2007 Edition

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The Mary Nelis Column

‘Faith in policing’ gimmick won’t build faith in the police

Last week the PSNI announced that Catholic and Protestant clergy were set to go on patrol with police officers to see the risks and difficulties that police encounter in a County Tyrone town.
The Faith in Policing Project is the brainchild of Inspector Graham Dodds who said there was a lot of sectarian tension and alcohol related crime in the Strabane area.
Strabane is not exactly in the league of the North’s sectarian hot spots. That dubious distinction is held in ultra-unionist places like Ballymena, Lisburn, Larne, and North Belfast. But PSNI chiefs have decided that these places have no need of the prayer and patrol double acts, even if they are about tackling crime.
The police and the clergy weren’t patrolling in the Castlemara Estate in Carrickfergus last weekend when the UDA engaged in an orgy of destruction, burning cars and attacking PSNI vehicles, but then it’s the hard men of loyalism who patrol such places, aided and abetted by a motley crew of Pastors, politicians and paramilitaries.
To select the unemployment black spot of the North, Strabane, to pilot such a venture has raised more than clerical eyebrows.
Schoolchildren in Strabane, unlike those in the Holy Cross Girls Primary in the Ardoyne, never had to run the gauntlet of  bombs, missiles, and the daily abuse of screaming sectarian loyalists,  simply to get to school. There were no schemes to defuse one of the most violent sectarian periods in the history of the past 30 years, which terrorised an entire generation of children.  
According to Inspector Dodds the Faith in Policing scheme followed a successful forum between the PSNI and unspecified churches in the Castlederg area of Tyrone. 
To suggest that Strabane is a hotbed of sectarianism and alcoholism and that the Catholic clergy don’t see the real social problems facing the police is arrogance in the extreme. To present this scheme to the media as a done deal is certainly disingenuous and has been contradicted by a number of Catholic clergy, clearly appalled that they were being drawn into a PR exercise to cover up for the lack of professional policing promised by the Patten reforms.
The Catholic community are increasingly sceptical about what they observe as the revolving door method of policing, where criminals arrested one day are released the next. It doesn’t take a great leap of faith to know that crime figures will automatically decrease when the police start doing the job they are paid to do.
There are concerns that double standards and sectarian application of the law, is alive and well within sections of the PSNI. Indeed the history of the years of conflict is littered with attempts by the intelligence services to involve clergy in various counter insurgency activities as hairbrained as the ‘clergy on patrol’.
The Faith in Policing project raises the spectre that somewhere in the upper echelons of the security services are people who are still trying to undermine political progress.
Faith in the police will happen not through ‘gimmicks’ but as a result of mutual respect and trust. That has to be earned.

An Phoblacht Magazine

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