Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

Isn't it about time PSNI got tough on UVF godfathers?

Does he ever rue the day he decided to come to Northern Ireland? You could hardly blame Matt Baggott if he did. Recent photographs in this paper reveal how the Chief Constable of the PSNI has become a bit weathered in the three-plus years he's been at the helm here.

But then a few years is likely to tell on anybody, anywhere. And he's hardly as haggard (yet) as Hugh Jackman in Les Miserables.

So it's not especially his looks Mr Baggott has to worry about. It's how he looks ...

It's how he and the top team around him (I'm assuming there is a top team around him) are seen by the decent majority of people right across this community in his handling of the flag protests/riots/general scumbaggery. When he took the reins back in August 2009 (the first police chief in Northern Ireland appointed - unanimously - by a panel that included Sinn Fein) he spoke enthusiastically about how "I am looking forward to bringing my expertise on neighbourhood policing and policing with the community with the PSNI".

You always wonder how these things will pan out in practice - particularly given the volatility and complexity of the Northern Ireland neighbourhood.

Which brings us to so-called Operation Standstill and the flak the PSNI leadership has been taking for its handling of a seven-week crisis. It is a crisis that has endangered lives and wrecked property, seriously damaged Belfast, caused misery to hundreds of thousands of working people and cost a blue fortune (and, for the record, shamed the very flag the so-called protesters claim to honour).

The PSNI policy to date appears to be one of simple containment. Or, in the case of the breakaway parade that sparked riots on the Short Strand interface a couple of weeks ago, not even that. Police chiefs warn that rioters are, however, being identified and will be hunted down - they can expect, we are assured, that knock on the door. But while that does appear to be happening and is to be welcomed, you're still left with the distinct sense that the major players in all this could and should be clamped down upon now. Young people cynically manipulated will end up with criminal convictions. Will those who put them on the streets also be brought to book?

Who, for example, is currently in charge of policing in east Belfast? The PSNI (whose headquarters are after all, located there)? The UVF? The Facebook puppet-masters? Or a leaflet?

A cap appears to have been put on the violence in the east after UVF bosses (one UVF boss in particular) called for it to stop. But the UVF, we're told, have had absolutely no hand whatsoever in fomenting the trouble. Or in turning it on and off to suit. No siree ...

Mr Baggott, meanwhile, is reported to have taken part in a talks process. Who were these talks with? We don't know. But wouldn't it have been more reassuring to learn that say, that east Belfast UVF godfather had been invited in to police HQ for a very different type of talks? This is the boss of a banned terrorist organisation, let us not forget.

Meanwhile, on Facebook, the faceless illiterati behind a number of "protest" pages are not only leaving themselves wide open to court proceedings but are permitting others to post material that is likely to get them in trouble too (although given their absolute ignorance of the law they all appear blissfully unaware of this.)

What is the PSNI doing about clamping down on these clampits?

As with Matt Baggott himself, the buck should stop at the top. With the puppet-masters. There are a quite a few overdue knocks on these doors, Matt. I do feel some sympathy for our police chief. He has been landed this mess by the politicians. And it is a god-awful mess. But if ever there was a time for strong leadership and robust action it is now.

It's not a time for "community policing". It's time for policing the community.

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