Who'd want the impossible job of PSNI Chief Constable?
A very senior source has described the job of Chief Constable of the PSNI as an almost impossible one. That is a verdict with which Matt Baggott undoubtedly will concur as he prepares to leave the policing hot seat.
He came here with the intention of creating a more community-focused force – a task made very difficult by the dissident republican threat. While that ethos apparently made him a popular choice with the DUP and Sinn Fein, he soon learned that political support is a nebulous concept in Northern Ireland.
This was shown most starkly during the last marching season, when the usual tribal passions were stoked even higher by the ongoing protests over flags. Intemperate comments flew freely from several politicians who, when they saw the riots which ensured from the raised tensions, melted from the scene like unseasonable snow from a ditch.
The Chief Constable was left almost isolated, taking flak from all sides over his handling of the violent scenes on the streets. He also tried to make sense of the situation by explaining the socio-economic factors which influence some of those on the fringes of society, a job far removed from his remit.
There are critics who will argue that his obsession with human rights, his apparent reluctance to confront paramilitary godfathers in east Belfast during the marching season, and the lack of openness about the force were minus points in his career here. They would have preferred a more robust, street-wise response to trouble-makers on all sides.
Yet it must be accepted that he must often have felt he was waging a lone battle, as the dysfunctional political rulers – despite signing up to support the PSNI – often displayed a very partial interpretation of law and order. Unlike practically any other police force in Europe, the PSNI cannot depend on unwavering political backing.
That is what makes the job so difficult. Matt Baggott's experience should be a sobering lesson for those who will seek to replace him. But it should not necessarily spell the end of the experiment of bringing in officers with experience of more normal policing.