20 November 2008 Edition
The Mary Nelis Column
Police support must work both ways
FEW would disagree with the sentiments expressed by Cardinal Seán Brady that the creation of a representative police service with independent oversight facilities and the prospect of direct accountability to a locally-elected administration are essential to the future peace and stability of this island as a whole. That’s why the transfer of policing and justice powers is essential if we are to jettison the legacy of political, partisan policing that has underpinned the Six-County state since its inception and brought the entire question of justice and policing into disrepute.
Most sensible people acknowledge and subscribe to the notion that the establishment of such a police service should be deserving of the wholehearted support of the community. But that cuts both ways.
A community that for generations has suffered grievously the outworking of sectarian, non-accountable policing also deserves wholehearted support from a police service that, in the post-Patten era, we were told was a new beginning to policing.
Such support at the present is very much one-way traffic as the incidents in Strabane at the weekend indicate.
Strabane is part of a long line of incidents in the nationalist community that reflect not just the abject failure of professional policing but a more sinister current of policing not far removed from the bad old days of the RUC.
The failure to respond to community concerns on crime and anti-community activity reflects a disdain for the nationalist community that is symptomatic of a serious cultural and political attitude among many of the current PSNI officers on the ground in nationalist areas.
In Strabane at the weekend, the PSNI evacuated people out of their homes because of a suspect car, and then packed up their bags, jumped into their jeeps and went home to their beds, leaving the people to fend for themselves.
This is not the first instance of 9-to-5 policing that leaves communities unprotected from crime and flags up such bizarre incidents as that which occurred in Belfast recently. The PSNI phoned a woman at 7am in the morning to ask her to check if there was a body lying in her street.
It is another example of the disdain for the nationalist community that masquerades under the guise of ‘operational matters’ or lack of resources.
Mind you, there was no lack of resources in Belfast during the disgraceful Sunday morning spectacle of the ‘welcome home’ parade for British soldiers when unionist mobs attacked victims’ relatives with fireworks, bolts, bottles and rocks and the PSNI in full riot gear did nothing.
Perhaps that’s why an increasing number of Catholic officers are leaving, totally disillusioned with what they perceive as ‘the old hat whose new feathers still exhibit a distinct orange tinge’.
There are currently some 1,800 officers from a Catholic background serving in the PSNI out of a total force of 7,500, not counting the full-time and part-time reserves. The transfer of policing and justice powers needs to address such a serious imbalance but, more importantly, needs to ensure that a mutual culture of equality and political respect is reflected in the future DNA of the PSNI leadership that is clearly missing at the moment.