Belfast Telegraph

Politicians dragging their feet over issues that matter, says Chief Constable Matt Baggott

By Deborah McAleese

Chief Constable Matt Baggott has hit out at the pace at which Northern Ireland’s politicians work.

He said it has taken them three years to give the go-ahead for a specialised safety centre for young people, despite the funds and architect plans sitting ready to go.

The Northern Ireland Safety and Lifeskills Education Centre for young people would offer safety-focused education to visiting schools and youth groups to address issues such as road safety, online safety, anti-social behaviour and drugs and alcohol awareness. But despite the funds sitting in a bank for over two years, the Chief Constable said he struggled to get agreement for the centre from the Assembly.

He added that politicians need to also start agreeing education and health plans for the most vulnerable communities. Speaking at a public meeting in Antrim the Chief Constable called upon “people power” to put pressure on politicians to get dealing with these vital issues. “People power might be helpful to shake people into life. Priorities that affect our most vulnerable need to be agreed,” Mr Baggott said.

Weighing in behind Mr Baggott, Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr also criticised politicians for failing to reach a “mature political agreement” on how to deal with legacy issues and instead leaving it at the door of the PSNI.

“It is not the PSNI’s job to deal with legacy issues. It is putting a massive strain on services. We are spending an increasing amount of resources on policing the past and we can’t sustain it. In the absence of a mature political agreement, this all falls on us,” said Mr Kerr.

He added: “There is going to have to be a mature conversation. Do you want police dealing with the past or the here and now?”

Large amounts of police resources are currently tied up in dealing with investigations into legacy-related murders.

Controversial killings from the conflict have resulted in 46 inquests being heard, which require police input, an investigation into the death of solicitor Pat Finucane in 1989 and co-operation with the independent Historical Enquiries Team, which is looking at all unresolved cases.

And in July, the PSNI was asked to investigate the deaths of 13 people shot dead by British soldiers in Londonderry on Bloody Sunday in 1972 following the Saville Inquiry’s report.

The renewed concerns from the PSNI over having to continue dealing unsupported with legacy issues comes at a time of growing budget pressures for the police.

“Over the next year we are facing challenges with our finances. My big challenge over the next two years is to ensure neighbourhood policing is not compromised by inadvertent politics... there is a big issue about sustaining neighbourhood policing into the future and not compromising organised crime fighting,” Mr Baggott said.

Mr Baggott’s comments put him at odds with First Minister Peter Robinson who last week said that Stormont needed to embark on a public relations offensive to trumpet the achievements of politicians. The Chief Constable made the claims about slow development before the DUP leader spoke of his concerns that the Executive received “a poor Press”.

Mr Robinson pointed to Titanic Belfast, the Giant’s Causeway visitor centre, the Irish Open and the G8 conference announced on Tuesday by Prime Minister David Cameron as shining examples of achievements by the Executive.

“There are commentators who almost use the word ‘Assembly’ along with ‘lack of delivery’, which is completely untrue,” he said. “I think we have a job to do and you’ll probably see it being done over the next weeks and months where the Executive will be making more of an issue of what it is delivering so people are aware of the work that we are doing.”

Mr Robinson said the decision-making process at Stormont is becoming more effective over time.

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