Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein need to take a step back from political policing

By Liam Clarke

"a very heavy-handed operation, reminiscent of the bad old days," was how Francie Molloy, the deputy Speaker of the Assembly, described raids and arrests in his constituency as part of the Ronan Kerr murder investigation.

However, Mr Molloy's words - and similar comments from the deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness - themselves seemed like a throwback to the middle of the last century.

Then, it was frequently claimed, political intervention could shut down a police investigation, or steer it in a direction more acceptable to senior politicians.

Sinn Fein used to call it 'political policing' and they used to be opposed to it.

Everyone can understand a politician's annoyance at seeing someone that he or she believes is innocent being arrested as part of a murder investigation.

It must be a deeply unpleasant experience.

But it can - and does - happen to people who are subsequently found to be innocent and released.

In a modern democracy, politicians are expected to allow the police the operational independence to follow up whatever leads come up - even if many of them turn out to be false.

The alternative would be for detectives to ring up senior politicians and to ask which suspects could be vouched for and which it would be wise to pull in for questioning.

That is just the sort of old boys' network that republicans claimed operated between senior unionists and the RUC under the old Stormont.

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