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We cannot make sacrifices on the 'altar of compromise'

(Tom Kelly, Irish News)

Ian Paisley jnr is reported in the Village as having said that the "PSNI could make Inspector Clouseau look efficient". Brian Feeney in the Irish News has written that an end of year report for the PSNI would score them a meagre five out of 10 with an addendum that they "must try harder". As for the Policing Board, he was more scathing labelling us a "paper tiger" worth only a score of four out of 10.

Dr Feeney and Baby Doc are regarded as sources of 'informed comment'. Although coming from different perspectives, it would appear that these two polar ends of the political spectrum have found common cause. No doubt this will come of considerable concern to both.

Ian jnr wanted to recall the board to discuss the recent robbery at the Northern Bank. On the face of it a reasonable enough request as it was a matter of public interest and mirth. However, the knee jerk response of a board meeting would have been both politically immature and operationally premature.

It would have served as nothing more than a window dressing event for some board members to air a few last-minute political salvos before the annual Christmas cessation of political hostilities.

Furthermore, days into one of the biggest heists in Europe - what piece of substantive information could the PSNI have provided to board members and to what end would some board members use such information? If we were to be given a confidential briefing, how long would such information remain in confidence?

The fact is the PSNI would have not been able to say anything of substance to the board. A meeting would have only fuelled the existing prejudices of some board members and as oft been the case the board suffers from more leaks than the Marie Celeste.

Of course, the dogs in the streets are barking to some members that trail of hot Northern Bank notes are paving the roads of west Belfast. These are the same dogs that could not sniff out a loyalist drug baron if he was living next door.

On the other hand, Dr Feeney fears that the dogs in the PSNI kennels only have noses for certain postcodes in the city.

Ian comes from a perspective of being on the Policing Board and intends using the board in the absence of any other political forum as his field of play. Brian, as a commentator has the luxury of looking 'in' from the outside, allowing him to interpret as he pleases.

It would appear that both wish things in the PSNI and the board were not as they are. So would I.

It seems somewhat ironic though not surprising that while Ian Paisley believes that the scale and number of many of the Patten reforms have hindered effective policing; Brian Feeney believes a lack of will to implement and failure to absorb all Patten changes immediately are limiting effective policing. It is clear the political cyclops intend judging the peace with the same limited vision they had of the war. Will it ever get better?

Having got policing wrong for nearly 80 years – I would like and feel we are entitled to have the space to get it right. We have just passed the third anniversary of the new board and most balanced observers would agree that this is a relatively short period of time in the history that is ours.

Effecting change, implementing change and learning about policing in and with the community has not been easy. Like Brian, I am from a part of the community who for very good reason was less than wholehearted in my support for the police. Our learning curve has been steep .

Policing will never be fully effective until it can operationally provide a service in all parts of the north.

It can never be truly successful in its attempts to police with the community until has support of the entire body politic.

Policing cannot, as it tried under the old authority be held to account in a cosy quango-driven live in between the NIO, police and the inner circle of the north's governing elite. None of these matters are solely within the gift of the board.

Despite the political misgivings of Mr Paisley and the acerbic commentary of Dr Feeney, the new architecture of policing including a reformed criminal justice system, the offices of the ombudsman and oversight commissioner and the board is actually delivering change.

It would be unfair and unjust not recognise that this could not have happened without the physical commitment to delivering on change provided by the leadership and grassroots of the PSNI.

Of course, that is not to say all is rosy in the garden. Policing once viewed though orange tinted glasses may still have colour focus issues in some areas and the chief constable is on record as saying not everyone was happy with the changes taking place. The main difference with the past is that change is taking place and it does not matter who doesn't like it.

The Chief Constable has briefed the chair and vice chair of the board on the on going investigation into the Northern Bank heist and later in the month all members of the board will receive an update.

No matter what the political considerations – the board as an entity must face up the consequences of what it is told.

We cannot go on believing we live in a bubble or acting as if we are removed from the realities of the political world. If the finger of blame points in the direction involves Provisional IRA then we on the board must make it clear that no political umbrella can or should be used to save the political fallout from actions of any paramilitary activity which masquerades as criminality.

Some politicians are quick to point out that it is the responsibility of everyone in the political process to affect an end to paramilitary activity.

To a degree that is true. Just as some unionist politicians seem prepared to play footsie with loyalist hard men when it suits them; so too do some prominent Sinn Féin members believe that no republican can ever be a criminal. The parallel universes that these types of politicians inhabit must be blasted into orbit. The governments cannot continue to abandon the moral compass of decency for political expediency.

As the threat of paramilitary terrorism recedes; the privatisation of paramilitary criminality rises. As a society we have not gone through the agony of a war and the pain of the peace to exchange one set of sinister godfathers for another. If we continue to sacrifice the political process on an altar of compromise on the issue of paramilitary driven criminality, policing will never be able to provide the service expected of it and the paper tiger will not be the board but the entire criminal justice system.

January 11, 2005

Tom Kelly is an independent member of the Policing Board.

This article appeared first in the January 10, 2005 edition of the Irish News.

This article appears thanks to the Irish News. Subscribe to the Irish News