Outgoing Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde has described his seven years in charge here as a police rollercoaster of highs and lows.
In an interview in his last week in the policing hot seat in Belfast, he said the dissident republican threat is “as high as it has ever been”, and he talked about the murder in March of Constable Stephen Carroll.
“The tragedy of that was it was just so pointless,” Sir Hugh told the Belfast Telegraph.
“It achieved nothing apart from galvanising everybody into saying ‘we want no more of this’.”
“That (the murder) was without question the low point,” he said.
Sir Hugh talked about the universal condemnation that followed the shooting.
“That said more to the world than anything else and it put the dissidents right in the place they need to be, which is nowhere.
“It doesn’t mean they are not dangerous, and small groups of dangerous people can do a lot of damage,” he said.
Sir Hugh described this phase of the peace process as “the difficult endgame”.
His successor — the Leicestershire Chief Constable Matt Baggott — is expected in the city before the end of September.
His Police Authority is due to meet this week and a precise arrival date should emerge then.
In his last interview as Chief Constable, Sir Hugh spoke of the highs during his seven years.
“I think there is an awful lot,” he said.
“I think delivering the overwhelming majority of the Patten Report is a high,” he added.
“The fact that Northern Ireland is a safer place now than it was seven years ago is a high.
“It’s not what I have done, it’s what the frontline has done, and I think there’s something about communities working evermore with police officers that is a high.”
He also praised the SDLP’s decision to join the Policing Board at an early stage.
“Sinn Fein on the board is important, but we have very short memories here,” he said.
“The nationalist community was represented by the SDLP from the word go and people seem to forget that people took some big knocks but they were proved right.
“Progress in policing was unstoppable and it is a regret that Sinn Fein weren’t brave enough to do the same thing at the same time. The big plus now is we have a Policing Board that is fully representative and is a Policing Board that is resilient. It has stood the test of time.”
The chairman of that Board, Barry Gilligan, said Sir Hugh had at all times “provided a strong leadership role to the officers and support staff he commands, and presented a public profile that is professional and has helped build confidence in policing”.
In a few days’ time Sir Hugh takes over as President of the Association of Chief Police Officers.
‘Seven years is probably long enough in this job’
IT had all the appearance of leaving — an office ready for one Chief Constable going and another arriving.
You could see it in the near-empty bookcase and on the tidy desk.
These are Hugh Orde’s last days in policing here.
He has left a few books for Matt Baggott to read.
Outside Orde’s office yesterday the talk was of the weather for the rest of the week and the catering numbers for his last goodbye.
Seven years has been a long time in the top job here.
“You can’t have bits you want and bits you don’t want,” he told me over a cup of coffee yesterday.
“The reality of this job is you take it as it is,” he continued.
“The relentless pressure is something that one could actually only, I guess, survive for a certain amount of time.
“I think seven years is probably about the top end. You carry a lot of risk,” he said.
There is still work to be done in policing and there is still the question of the past and how it is addressed.
“We stepped up to the mark,” Sir Hugh said.
“The HET (Historical Enquiries Team) is something I’m immensely proud of.
“It is delivering. We have delivered reports that give a greater degree of understanding to communities than any other process currently being devised or currently running (and) for a lot less money.
“My only advice to my successor will be that should be kept going.
“It has made a substantial impact.
“The process needs to continue because it’s doing something that is making a difference and it’s making a difference to many people who are the quiet people, who haven’t shouted and yelled and screamed or got people behind them but want to know what went on. They want information. They want to understand what went on,” he said.
And he is adamant about something else — that whatever process is used to look into the past, it has to be about much more than the role of the state.
“We have to have intelligence,” he said.
“We have intelligence now. It’s not a nice business to be in. It is an essential business.
“It always was. And without question people are alive today because of the work of security forces over the last 40 years.
“So there needs to be a bit of honesty around that,” he added.
“In terms of did some people step over the mark, sure they did.
“It was a very dirty war as it has been described and, of course, everyone involved in that dirty war needs to step up to the mark.
“And whilst I understand the role of the state and its uniqueness, that is not a get off clause for all the other people who committed the overwhelming majority of murders — the IRA and the UDA and their equivalents in the loyalist circles.”
A long time ago Sir Hugh talked about finding a way to “close the book”.
That has not yet happened and the issue of the past will still be here when Matt Baggott arrives in just a few weeks.