Matt Baggott looks forward to day politics taken out of policing
Chief Constable Matt Baggott says he is optimistic that investigations and inquests into Troubles-related atrocities can be concluded in the next four years.
Mr Baggott told the Belfast Telegraph that hopefully by that stage policing will be “politically boring”, and instead of dealing with historical cases of conflict, resources will be invested in disadvantaged areas to deal with inequality, high crime and reoffending.
“If we can get through this current phase of HET investigations looking into the past, inquests, inquiries, Ombudsman, and then create the right distance between going over the issues of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s and concentrate on looking forward — that can be dealt with within the next three or four years, and then at which point policing has to be let to do what it has to do,” Mr Baggott said.
“At the minute things are being seen through a political lens, but the future has to see inequality and high crime and reoffending as a matter beyond politics, and that’s where I want to put the PSNI.”
There are still many complications to overcome, the Chief Constable said, referring to controversial issues like national security, policing of riots and carrying out searches. But he is feeling reassured by the recent endorsement of policing by the Catholic bishops and the GAA.
Last month he spoke at an Irish Catholic bishops’ conference in Co Louth and the PSNI’s Gaelic football team was invited to play at Croke Park for the first time.
“The endorsement from the Catholic bishops and the GAA is based upon their own confidence of what they have seen and what they are seeing,” he said. “This endorsement means we can start going more into vulnerable locations and people will be more willing to pick up the phone to us.”
He admitted some members of the public still struggle to trust the Police Service. “The more we have confidence, the better the opportunities are for Northern Ireland to move forward. Once the angst is gone out of policing, we will start to see inward investment from foreign capital,” he said.
One way he suggested to try and raise confidence was to attend the next Sinn Fein ard fheis.
However, the party is yet to decide if it is in a position to invite him. Sinn Fein has said the Chief Constable still has to raise his credibility among nationalists and some have made claims of “dark forces” within the PSNI, referring to how national security and counter-terrorism is handled.
“I have not seen any evidence of anything being done that is not about keeping people safe and within the law. I haven’t seen the facts,” Mr Baggott hit back.
“You have a group of people trying to murder police officers. We still have people who, relentlessly, are trying to drive us out of neighbourhoods. So to get that balance right between security and the very visible policing we want is a constant test for us.”
With so much focus on trying to raise confidence in nationalist areas, does Mr Baggott agree that loyalist areas are being left out?
“I don’t think so. If you look where police officers are working and the things that we are doing, there isn’t any discrimination between republican, nationalist or loyalist,” the Chief Constable said.
He believes there is now a bigger agenda for policing around social justice in disadvantaged communities. “We need to see partnerships develop beyond politics to help [these] areas,” he said.
“Suicide rates don’t discriminate between nationalist and loyalist areas of deprivation; health inequality doesn’t discriminate and education unattained doesn’t discriminate. The future has to see inequality, high crime and reoffending as a matter beyond politics and that’s where I want to put the PSNI.”