PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton: Police can't solve all of our problems
Tensions around flags and parading – as well as the threat posed by dissident terrorists – cannot be tackled by police alone, the PSNI's new leader has warned.
George Hamilton, who will take over as chief constable from the outgoing Matt Baggott within weeks, called the role of Northern Ireland's most senior police officer "hugely challenging".
He hit out at dissident terror factions yesterday, hours after an attack on a Londonderry hotel, and described as "massive" the issues facing the PSNI in regards to historical investigations.
Speaking at the headquarters of the Policing Board, Mr Hamilton said there was an onus on politicians and those with influence within communities to help police make Northern Ireland safer.
Following a press conference, board chairwoman Anne Connolly joked with Mr Hamilton that "the fun was over" as he prepared to embark on his new post.
"I see my role as hugely challenging but also straight-forward," Mr Hamilton said.
"It's about keeping people safe, by preventing harm and protecting people – especially vulnerable people – and bringing those responsible for breaking the law to justice.
"Those are easily said words. On one level they are quite simple but of course we all know in Northern Ireland the operating environment at times can be hugely challenging.
"It's too big, too important and too complex to be left to the police service in isolation and therefore we'll be seeking to do that under my leadership with the communities, in partnership with PCSPs (Policing and Community Safety Partnerships), with the Policing Board and with the other institutions and the infrastructures all of which were put in place as the building blocks of the new PSNI under the Patten reforms.
"We're going to continue on that journey."
Asked how important it was for issues around flags, parades and the past to be addressed, Mr Hamilton replied: "In relation to political solutions to deal with wider societal issues around the past, flags and protests and so on, of course I, like anyone else who has a stake and who cares passionately about the well-being of Northern Ireland, would like to see a resolution to that.
"I think we need to allow the politicians to get on with that.
"In my role of Chief Constable I think it would be important we are part of that conversation, not to do the politics, but certainly to inform it and to talk through some of the experiences we have had dealing with these issues.
"I'm up for engagement with those political leaders around that but primarily it's a political issue and it requires wider political and societal resolution."
Father-of-four Mr Hamilton is from Bangor, Co Down, and joined the RUC in 1985.
He was appointed as the next Chief Constable ahead of Cressida Dick of the Metropolitan Police and Derek Byrne, a senior Garda commissioner.
He said he was honoured to be chosen for the prestigious post and that he would work to further enhance the emphasis on community policing.
Mr Hamilton will take over from Matt Baggott in the £195,000 per year post.
He added: "I care passionately about this place.
"I have a stake in it, I have family here and I've lived here for most of my life.
"I think it's important that we work together and everyone makes the contribution they can to make Northern Ireland a better place to live, to work, to visit."
Mr Baggott congratulated Mr Hamilton yesterday morning.
Mr Baggott, who is stepping down from the role after five years in charge, said: "George Hamilton is an outstanding police leader with significant skills and experience.
"I'm delighted he is to be my successor and he will bring a huge amount to the role of Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland."
Mr Hamilton's appointment as chief was roundly welcomed by the main political parties yesterday.
George Hamilton on politicians...
"In relation to political solutions to deal with wider societal issues around the past and flags and protests and so on, of course I like anyone else who has a stake, who cares passionately about the well-being of Northern Ireland, would like to see a resolution to that.
"I think we need to allow the politicians to get on with that. In my role of Chief Constable I think it would be important we are part of that conversation, not to do the politics, but certainly to inform it and to talk through some of the experiences we have had dealing with these issues. I'm up for engagement with those political leaders around that but primarily it's a political issue and it requires wider political and societal resolution."
... dissident republican threat
"I think the fact it has happened [hotel bomb attack in Londonderry] indicates some of the challenges that face us.
"These are people who are opposed to peace, they are people who are trying to use violence, who are damaging the economic well-being of the country, who are taking jobs off people and they don't actually care about this place or about the citizens of it – I do, deeply.
"We will be doing everything in our power possible to prevent occurrences like that and when they do occur we will be doing everything possible to bring those responsible to justice."
... dealing with public disorder
"The PSNI, unfortunately, is very experienced at dealing with such things.
"Our responsibility is to uphold the law. The human rights framework will be right at the centre of my leadership of this organisation.
"As we go into another marching season that will be the focus. In some ways there's nothing particularly new in that. I had the greatest respect and admiration for my colleagues at district level... who year in, year out go about standing in between opposing factions, trying to balance rights and trying to minimise harm caused to communities."
... the challenge of legacy issues
"I think there are massive challenges there. There are financial challenges about how we are going to fund that.
"That's a dilemma I want to share and discuss with the Policing Board about the best way forward on all of that.
"Every one of those legacy issues are not just to be written off as some sort of second division policing. Those are real issues for families today who still feel pain and hurt.
"That will be an important issue we have to deal with together. There are things we need to revisit. There are funding issues we need to be taking forward to the Policing Board, to the Department of Justice and to the Executive."