The new Chief Constable George Hamilton faces a considerable task, and on his first day in office he has outlined in detail some of the challenges. They include the constant threat from dissident terrorists, as well as a community-based approach to policing, dealing with contentious issues involving flags and emblems, and also the need to operate within severe financial constraints. The chief constable has no illusions about the severity of the dissidents' threat but he neatly summarised the police's role when he said that the PSNI's desire to maintain public safety is greater than the terrorists' desire to do harm.
To be successful in this, the police need all the help they can get, and not least from the public. Time and again in his article in today's Belfast Telegraph, the chief constable underlines the role of the police in serving the community. George Hamilton stated: "Community confidence and effective policing are built on a human-rights based approach to serving the public, and being comfortable with being held to account." This is an important acknowledgment by the chief constable, not only for the PSNI, but also at a time when some of the past malpractices of the RUC are being revealed to the public.
The chief constable takes over at the start of another marching season which will bring its own particular challenges, and he needs the help of community leaders on both sides to ensure that wiser councils will prevail. On a wider scale, the chief constable and the PSNI need considerable assistance from the politicians who, sooner or later, must create a lasting peace rather than leaving the police to deal with the fall-out from a continued lack of agreement.
George Hamilton is well-equipped for the difficult and complex challenges he faces in his leadership of the PSNI. He has considerable experience of policing in Northern Ireland and also across the Irish Sea, and he is an Ulsterman born and bred whose local knowledge will stand him in good stead.
As he takes over the heavy responsibility as chief constable, he has the good wishes of people from all sides who want this province to move forward rather than always having to hark back to the past, and having to live with the threat that this poses not only for the present but for the future of all of us.