Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: PSNI chief should not be condemned

There is no quicker way to stir up controversy in Northern Ireland than to introduce fresh ideas which challenge conventional viewpoints.

The Chief Constable's comments in an interview in this newspaper would have been unremarkable to any audience in Britain, but here he was accused of political meddling and insensitivity.

Given the recent history of this province it is hardly surprising that entrenched views on issues like the border and republicanism remain. Even to mention those subjects, as Mr Baggott has found out, is like lighting the blue touchpaper in a box of fireworks. Yet, he should not regard this reaction as a reason for toning down his comments in future.

In his interview he merely imagined a time when the border became less of an impediment in policing and when the PSNI and Garda could work in much closer co-operation. Of course, it would have been infinitely better if the security forces on both sides of the border had worked in total harmony during the Troubles and, of course, there is resentment among those who suffered grievously along the border on those days that killers were allowed to escape southwards.

But Mr Baggott cannot be blamed for past failures nor for failing to fully understand the sensitivities of political views on the border. But the past should not be used as a cudgel to beat him when all he really wants is a safer future for all residents here. Nor should he be criticised for his statement that he has no problem with dissident republicanism as a philosophy. His problem is with those who want to express their views in a violent manner. Many Secretaries of State said the same in the past about mainstream republicanism.

Any society that attempts to stifle debate and fresh thinking will remain mired in its past. Perhaps it takes someone like Mr Baggott to stir up debate and make us consider how to achieve a better future. He is to be commended rather than condemned for so doing.

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