Belfast Telegraph

Why it is rank and file officers I feel sorry for

By Lindy McDowell

According to PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott, the dissidents who planted a 200lbs bomb in Londonderry recently are “the same people, or the same mindset that ultimately led to the Omagh tragedy.”

On the scale of major revelation this will hardly strike many of us as revealing stuff.

Those of us who lived through the Troubles don’t need to be reminded of the potential for horror still out there. Or of the malign template the dissident madmen are working to.

Mr Baggott who only in April this year was comparing the dissidents to Brixton street gangs now warns us that they are becoming increasingly reckless.

“They are dangerous. We need to be realistic about them and keep them firmly on the back foot.”

The question that haunts many people however — not least a large number of Mr Baggott’s own officers — is whether these dangerous, reckless killers (my words, not his) are, as he asserts, actually on the back foot.

It’s exactly a year today since Mr Baggott was appointed Chief Constable of the PSNI.

At the time he expressed his delight and gratitude at landing “this huge privilege.”

A year on he would not be human, you imagine, if some small part of him was not now inwardly screaming: “What the hell ever possessed me?”

The last 12 months have surely been a bit of a learning curve about the intricacies, the sensitivities and the complexities of Northern Ireland.

The Yardies were doubtless tough hombres. But Belfast ain‘t Brixton.

There’s an old saying that the only man who knows how to solve the problems of Northern Ireland is the Englishman who’s been here a fortnight.

Give him a month though, and he, too, will have clocked it might not be that simple.

Mr Baggott will of course, have been better briefed than most before he came here.

The post the Chief Constable occupies is routinely described as one of the toughest in policing in the British Isles.

But it’s not actually the toughest.

That title surely goes to officers much further down the food chain.

Those PSNI men and women who live (often with very little protection) right in the heart of the community.

They are on the frontline even when they are off duty.

And as has been graphically and shockingly illustrated this week, their families, even their babies, are on the front line with them.

We know the capability and the strategy of the dissidents because we’ve seen it all before.

The dissidents’ PIRA parent organisation also targeted police officers when they were at their most vulnerable — at home with their families.

And they targeted especially Catholic officers.

Now PSNI officers are once again firmly in the sights of murderous scumbags.

But is enough being done to protect our policemen and women and help them carry out their work?

Not according to Terry Spence from the Police Federation who highlights manpower cutbacks, an increasing threat from paramilitaries on all sides and the absence of Army back-up when he talks about the PSNI being at “breaking point.”

A bit of straight talking there.

But who’s listening?

It is in the interests of all our leaders to get on top of this while there is still time.

But that may involve some difficult decisions (a return of troops?) having to be taken up at Stormont. And taken swiftly.

The PSNI need help now. Not when it is too late.

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