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Fresh start agreement: PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris welcomes new Stormont deal

Published 18/11/2015

Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris

A senior police commander has welcomed the latest Stormont deal but expressed disappointment it did not include steps to address the legacy of the Troubles.

Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris said an additional £160 million of Government-funding to tackle dissident republicans was much needed.

The financial commitment represents a continuation of extra Treasury support that has been offered to the PSNI since 2011.

Mr Harris said the Fresh Start agreement's initiatives to tackle paramilitarism and organised crime were also positive.

However, the senior officer said the lack of consensus on new mechanisms to deal with the past was a disappointment not only to the police, but also to many bereaved families.

A proposed new independent Historical Investigations Unit (HIU), which would have taken on the PSNI's responsibility for outstanding Troubles murder investigations, has not yet been approved.

An impasse between Sinn Fein and the UK Government over the disclosure of classified documents remains an obstacle in the way of establishing the HIU.

In lieu of consensus, the PSNI's Legacy Investigations Branch (LIB) will continue to carry out the probes.

Arguably the most high-profile case the LIB is currently working on is the murder investigation into the British Army killings of 14 civil rights demonstrators on Bloody Sunday in Londonderry in 1972.

Mr Harris said: "In relation to legacy issues, it is disappointing for the PSNI, and indeed for many grieving families, that no final agreement on dealing with the past has yet been reached.

"We are on record as saying the formation of a Historical Investigations Unit would provide an opportunity for a more structured and coherent approach to dealing with the past, allowing the PSNI to concentrate primarily on keeping people safe today.

"In the absence of any developments in relation to this challenging issue, the PSNI will continue to carry out its statutory duties to review and investigate the past, however we must ensure our finite resources are used in the most effective manner.

"We must balance keeping people safe today with our continued duties in relation to the past and the reality is the financial challenges facing us will continue to have a direct impact on how we respond to the demands of the past and the pace at which those demands can be serviced. We will look to our politicians for support as we continue to struggle with this very difficult issue."

Commenting on other elements of the deal, Mr Harris said: "PSNI will always be committed to any progress towards a safer, more confident and peaceful society. We welcome A Fresh Start - The Stormont Agreement, and we will play our part in supporting elected representatives in the implementation of the Agreement where appropriate.

"There are a number of issues in the Agreement that have implications for policing. It will take some time to understand the full outworkings of the proposals and we are ready to have further in-depth discussions as required.

"Paramilitarism and organised crime have a disproportionate effect on our most vulnerable communities and we recognise the clear political focus and financial commitments that this Agreement brings to tackling these issues.

"The PSNI will commit to working as part of the proposed Joint Agency Taskforce and provide any support required to the development of a Strategy to End Paramilitarism.

"We will also support and co-operate with the proposed international body to monitor continuing paramilitary activity.

"At a time of significant budgetary constraints, we welcome the commitment to continue the Additional Security Funding. This funding has been a critical element over the last four years in dealing with the severe threat and its continuation will sustain this work over the next five years.

"The indication for political progress on the issues of flags and parades is positive and we hope that further progress can be sustained on these complex issues."

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