Belfast Telegraph

New PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton makes pledge to hunt down terrorists

By Chris Kikpatrick

New Chief Constable George Hamilton has warned dissident republican terror groups he is determined to face down any threat to his officers and the public.

Mr Hamilton, who begins his job as Northern Ireland's top police officer today, admitted the challenges facing his force are "hugely complex".

And with the service laden with yet more budget cuts, he said it is crucial police are not left to pick up the pieces for a failure to achieve political consensus on flags, parades and the past.

Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, Mr Hamilton said his officers would doggedly combat the severe terror threat they face from dissident republicans, and push forward with a community-based approach to policing.

"I am acutely aware that my officers and staff are asked to deliver a policing service while a small but dangerous number of people who remain opposed to the peace process are actively planning attacks on my officers who are out serving the community," he said.

"These individuals have proven that they pose a threat not only to police but also to any members of the community who may get in the way of their plans.

"I can say with confidence that (the) PSNI's desire to keep people safe is greater than their desire to do harm."

The first chief constable from Northern Ireland in 12 years also said his experience as an officer here, which began in 1985, armed him with an invaluable insight into what the community expects from its police force.

Those aims can only be delivered with the help of others, Bangor-born Mr Hamilton (47) warned.

New talks aimed at finding a solution to the problems of flags, parades and the past are set to get under way on Wednesday.

After six months of negotiations last year ended with no agreement on New Year's Eve, Mr Hamilton said tensions around the contentious issues could be capitalised on by violent extremists.

"The lack of consensus around the issues of flags, parades and dealing with the past poses significant challenges to our society and continues to give space to those who use violence to express their discontent," Mr Hamilton said.

"The absence of an agreed long-term plan to strengthen our peace is holding our community back and places a considerable strain on policing."

Mr Hamilton was involved in talks between loyalists and republicans in Cardiff last year.

Yesterday it emerged the Department of Justice has asked the PSNI to plan for cuts of up to £10m to its budget. It has already been hit hard as a result of the deadlock on welfare reform.

A spokesman for the Department of Justice confirmed: "As part of the process of regularly monitoring expenditure plans to take account of pressures, the PSNI has been asked to scope the implications of a £7m to £10m budget reduction.

"This is part of a scenario-planning exercise should additional savings be required, including for potential welfare reform-related pressures."

Mr Hamilton admitted senior management of the PSNI would have to take "difficult decisions" in the future.

"We must adapt to new pressures and challenges whilst keeping communities at the heart of everything we do," he added.

"A leaner, more focused police service, working in partnership with our other agencies will be essential and we will explore more innovative ways of delivering policing."

Yesterday, Hamilton's predecessor Matt Baggott urged politicians and civic society to "reach out" to dissidents. Mr Baggott said the PSNI had stopped dissidents from regrouping, with almost 300 in Maghaberry Prison as a result of anti-terror operations.

"I believe there is a conversation taking place (among dissidents) about what is the future of violence, will it ever succeed, probably it won't, therefore is it time for a change of direction," added Mr Baggott, in an interview with The Sunday Times. "I think more and more dissidents are starting to realise the future has to be through politics or it's going to be in prison."

The baptism of fire awaiting Hamilton

LEGACY ISSUES: The Police Ombudsman has taken the PSNI to court after accusing the force of failing to co-operate with murder inquiries.

The action centres on recent and historic cases that involve the deaths of 60 people. It is understood that one of the cases is the Loughinisland murders when loyalist gunmen killed six people as they watched the 1994 World Cup in the village bar.

Investigating historical cases is hugely expensive, particularly for a force facing more budget cuts.

In his last interview before he handed over to George Hamilton, Matt Baggott said that the PSNI could no longer deal with the issues of the past, which were causing a massive strain to resources.

PARADES: George Hamilton takes the hotseat as the marching season reaches its height.

Last summer saw some of the worst violence on the streets of Northern Ireland in recent years. The cost of policing associated protests has hit more than £10m.

TERROR THREAT: The PSNI has scored a number of high-profile recent successes against dissident republican terror groups.

But senior officers know they cannot let their guard slip.

Small in number, dissident factions still retain deadly potential.

The east Belfast UVF is also under investigation.

BUDGET: The Department of Justice has asked the PSNI to plan for budget cuts of £7m-£10m. That comes on top of £11m already lost this year as a result of the Stormont deadlock on welfare reform.

The budget was already under huge strain — they had to deliver savings of £48m even before this year's figures were signed off.

And with no sign of a parades deal, the chief Constable will be warned there will be no bailouts if trouble erupts this summer.

Quotes

"This is my home. I grew up here and I have raised my family here.

"As a member of the community, almost everyone I meet shares in the same vision, to live in a safe, confident and peaceful society.

"Being part of the community means we have to be ready to listen and respond to the needs of the community. We must also encourage and create opportunities for you to play a role in policing, working with us to solve problems which affect the safety and wellbeing of where you live."

New Chief Constable George Hamilton.

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