Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Matt Baggott retires: Why Northern Ireland's dark side is still a stumbling block for the PSNI Chief Constable

Peter Robinson, PSNI chief constable Matt Baggott and Martin McGuinness holding a press conference in 2011 after police officer Constable Ronan Kerr, 25, was killed by a bomb planted under his car
Peter Robinson, PSNI chief constable Matt Baggott and Martin McGuinness holding a press conference in 2011 after police officer Constable Ronan Kerr, 25, was killed by a bomb planted under his car

Even before this statement from Matt Baggott there was growing speculation about who would be next into the top policing post here.

"It's George Hamilton's to lose," one source told this newspaper.

And that comment is an indication that this decision now announced by the Chief Constable was widely expected.

For some time now, something else was also being said.

That within the Policing Board a consensus had been reached that it was time for change.

The Board appoints chief officers, and with Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie having already announced her decision to leave in March, the decision now is about sequencing.

In other words which job to appoint first – Chief or Deputy?

Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton who returned to the PSNI after a period with Strathclyde Police is the local favourite for the top post.

He currently has responsibility for the rural policing region

But others will be interested in this job – one of the most prestigious in UK policing.

"You've got to understand the place," one observer commented – meaning the unique policing circumstances of Northern Ireland.

And for all the progress of the 'peace' years, there are still many dangers. And the dissident threat hasn't gone away.

Another source watching developments, was highly critical of the Policing Board.

"They have made it [the Chief Constable post] such an unpleasant role," he said. "It sounds to me like a battle a day – a siege," the source continued.

He also pointed to other factors slowing down the process of new policing:

* flag protests,

* no political leadership,

* no political will to deal with the past.

The most recent attempt within the Richard Haass/Meghan O'Sullivan initiative to build a structure to address the conflict years ended in a political standoff.

When Matt Baggott arrived he set a goal of achieving 'personal policing'. It was about getting officers closer to the communities – out of Land Rovers and out from behind desks.

However, not as much as had been hoped has been achieved.

Some will write the Baggott legacy around greater confidence in policing, lowest crime levels, more officers on the streets and the successful G8 conference.

But when he arrived here a source spoke to me about his limited knowledge of Northern Ireland's 'dark side' – meaning the past and the so-called dirty war. It is the mud in which new policing constantly gets stuck.

And that issue will be there for whoever is next into the top policing post.

Yet for all its challenges, this place is still seen as one of the biggest policing posts and as the job to have.

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