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Past is holding our police back

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 18/05/2015

Drew Harris warns that the PSNI is being swamped by the current process of historical reviews and investigation
Drew Harris warns that the PSNI is being swamped by the current process of historical reviews and investigation

A crucial issue facing the PSNI and Northern Ireland society is how to deal with the past, while providing sufficient support for the police to deal with the challenges of the present.

This dilemma has been outlined clearly in the interview with Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris in today's Belfast Telegraph.

He warns that the PSNI is being swamped by the current process of historical reviews and investigations. The sheer number of these - 53 cases relating to 86 deaths dating back to the early 1970s - is creating a massive challenge .

The victims of the Troubles and their families are entitled to expect answers in their search for justice, but it is clear also that the police cannot deal with this issue alone.

Statistics show that crime is rising in Northern Ireland, particularly violent crime and sexual offences. Unfortunately, however, the PSNI is having to deal with crippling budget cuts. Already there are fewer officers on the streets, at a time when the public needs reassurance that the PSNI's ability to keep people safe is not being compromised.

It is important to note that 70 police officers are working full-time on investigating the past, and the list of cases could rise.

Significantly, the Stormont House Agreement has already approved the creation of several new bodies and processes to deal with the past, including an Historical Investigations Unit to examine unsolved murders.

As well as the considerable financial implications involved with police work, there is obviously an urgent need for the Stormont House Agreement to be implemented in full. There is an urgency for politicians from all parties to make this happen .

It was Sinn Fein which, for its own reasons, pulled the rug from under the agreement which was painfully worked out last December, and the party needs to shoulder its responsibility for getting the political process back on track.

The alternative, spelt out by Drew Harris, is a lessening of the ability of the police to keep people safe here and now.

The legacy of the past hangs over everyone, and it will need to be dealt with, sooner or later. However, it is also vital to deal with current challenges, and one of the priorities of any government and police force is to keep its citizens safe.

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