Good policing, good politics

Published Thursday, 05 June 2014
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It makes sense that there is to be an early handover. Since January, and Matt Baggott's announcement of his decision to retire as Chief Constable, the focus has been on who's next.

And, for months - even before that announcement - George Hamilton's name has been on the tip of most tongues.

He will take charge of the PSNI at the end of this month knowing that good policing needs good politics.

Not political interference in operational decisions, but rather a relationship on Stormont's hill that sets an example and filters down to the ground.

For too long the atmosphere has been toxic, sour, poisoned by political plays and street pantomime.

Last October, I listened as Hamilton spoke at a reconciliation event and described the difficulty of delivering personal policing dressed in boiler suits and from behind shields.

That has been the street reality for many, many months - a consequence of flag and marching disputes.

And, we have watched in different places as the police have built human walls between parade and protest.

"We want to work with communities," Hamilton said at that reconciliation event hosted by the Sanctus Boscus group in Holywood.

"We want to listen to communities. We want to be sensitive to where communities are at and we certainly don't want to be an obstacle to progress," he said.

Republicans and loyalists were in the audience, clergy, others who work in policing, peace-building, academia and community projects.

The event coincided with the 20th anniversary of the IRA Shankill bomb on October 23 1993 - a reminder of where this place once was, but also of the progress on the journey since.

Hamilton spoke to an audience that included Seanna Walsh, who read the IRA endgame statement in 2005, and a former loyalist life sentence prisoner John Howcroft.

Both were freed early under the release terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

And what do these events and conversations tell us?

That policing is not just about 'cops'.

It's about people and politics and dialogue - about talking and finding a way out of the past and into the present; about making new beginnings a reality.

And Hamilton knows the importance of those conversations - and that the police need to have the pulse of the many communities and moods.

His appointment as the next Chief Constable was announced this day last week with news that he will be in post by the end of this month coming earlier today.

It is a sensible decision.

People get confused by two Chief Constables in the one service - even if one is in waiting.

It is a huge job and challenge.

How, as part of a wider process, to take the past out of policing, free the information that people are looking for along with the answers others want from the IRA, loyalists, Army and intelligence.

The police can't deliver that without help.

Politicians can, but then they need to step back and let the proposed Historical Investigations Unit and Independent Commission on Information Retrieval get on with their work.

That can't be restricted within any party-political straitjacket.

Narratives and story lines will be disturbed.

But you can't have new policing that day after day is poisoned by the past.

The leading Queen's academic Professor Kieran McEvoy told a recent event that the structure is there - but the will is not.

That's one of the gaps for politicians to close.

And, some how and in some way, the marching rows need to be taken off the street.

That means getting an agreed decision-making process and then agreeing with the decisions whatever they are.

We'll see another big-numbers policing operation in north Belfast this weekend, a consequence and a confirmation of continuing standoff and stalemate.

The dissident republican threat to officers and others is also part of an unfinished peace, and not all the answers will come from policing, security and intelligence.

Communities and politicians have to be part of addressing that threat.

So, in the top policing post here, George Hamilton will have a contribution to make, but new beginnings aren't just about the police.

Good Policing needs Good Politics.

© UTV News
Comments Comments
david killicomaine in portadown wrote (230 days ago):
getting out before the july riots begin...
PB in Belfast wrote (236 days ago):
We don't need a figurehead we need the new chief to get in amongst the communities and bring a normal society to NI..
Sherdy in Belfast wrote (237 days ago):
If we can have two Popes why not two Chief Constables? But the cynic in me wonders what sort of situation is Baggott intending to leave George Hamilton. We have been told that when Baggott's term was coming to a close, he was miffed at not even getting the chance to stay on in the job. From he arrived at the PSNI he has been co-operating with the Ombudsman's office, supplying any document ion required, and his change of policy to obstruct the Ombudsman coincided with news of his imminent departure. He has now decided to jump ship early, before the decision to take him to court can be actioned. This means that George Hamilton will be left to handle this hot potato. If George decides to follow current obstructive policy he will most likely come out of court with serious egg on his face, and if he reverts to previous policy and co-operates with the Ombudsman he will be branded as a Lundy. Baggott will be sitting at home in England laughing at the problem he has left for all of us!
S.B. in Belfast wrote (238 days ago):
Matt Baggott's tenure has been a disaster and we are all paying for it now. He came across as someone who didn't really know this place and he was a very, very weak Chief Constable who ultimately let his own officers on the front line down. Instead of showing leadership Baggott pandered to extreme Loyalist elements and the result was that Belfast City Centre was disrupted for the good part of a year by flag protestors; woman and children were allowed to close roads and the business community suffered dreadfully. Baggott was also overly defensive and super sensitive to anyone who dared criticise him and the denial of information to the Police Ombudsman has further eroded confidence in him and the PSNI as a whole. The Police Federation has also been scathing of his poor leadership which left many officers injured because they were forced to stand and take everything and anything Loyalists could throw at them. That should have been nipped in the bud right at the start of the flags protests at Belfast City Hall and in East Belfast. George Hamilton will have to demonstrate very quickly that the PSNI is ultimately a police service that comes down very quickly on law breakers and will not tolerate any nonsense. He will also have to quickly reveal why the Police Ombudsman is being denied very important information or confidence will further ebb away very fast in the PSNI.
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Brian Rowan
Brian Rowan

Brian Rowan is a journalist, author and broadcaster who has reported on the major peace process developments - from ceasefires to political agreements.

Four times he has been a category winner in the Northern Ireland Journalist of the Year awards.

He is the author of four books and a regular commentator on UTV.

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