Belfast Telegraph

Parades, protests and the past fill new chief George Hamilton's in-tray

By Deborah McAleese

Some might argue that Derek Byrne and Cressida Dick have had a lucky escape. That is one bulging in-tray in PSNI headquarters awaiting new Chief Constable George Hamilton and none of it is very pleasant.

The Policing Board have decided that this time around they would prefer a local Chief Constable, who they believe is better equipped to deal with the complexities and sensitivities of Northern Ireland's political, social and security minefields.

There won't be much of a settling-in period for Mr Hamilton as the tense marching season is just around the corner, along with its threat of night after night of rioting.

Policing contentious marches and protests could be made even more challenging if the PSNI is unable to overturn a recent High Court ruling on the facilitation of illegal loyalist flag protests and parades. One of the messiest and most toxic items lying in that in-tray is dealing with the past.

Just how difficult that issue is was reinforced in recent weeks with the arrest and four-day detention of Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.

He was questioned over the 1972 abduction and murder of Belfast widow Jean McConville. He was released pending a report to the Public Prosecution Service.

Dealing with the past is a no-win situation for the police and Mr Hamilton will find himself the subject of some very brutal criticism. On top of all of this is the severe terrorist threat from dissident republicans as well as a rise in loyalist violence, with the UDA and UVF becoming increasingly dangerous.

An ugly problem that has begun to take root in certain parts of Northern Ireland is racism, with many families and individuals subject to violent physical and verbal attack.

The enormity of this issue cannot be denied, especially after Alliance MLA Anna Lo announced she is leaving Northern Ireland politics because of continued racist abuse directed at her by loyalists.

Away from all the political, social and security issues, the ordinary men and women want to feel safe in the street and in their own homes. They want to feel reassured that if they should become a victim of crime they will have a professional and accessible police service to turn to for help.

That is where community policing has been playing its part and that is what Mr Hamilton is going to have to continue to deliver, at the same time as dealing with all of the above on an ever-decreasing budget. Looming ahead of him are fresh cuts to the policing budget. Some very difficult decisions are going to have to be made by the new Chief Constable on how to sort out his in-tray with less money in the PSNI wallet.

But confidence is high that Mr Hamilton is up for the job.

A source close to the selection process said: "George Hamilton filled the panel with confidence in his abilities to do the job when he answered questions about how he would deal with the past, contentious marches and importantly how to keep community policing going with a decreasing budget and terrorist threat. I've no doubt he is the man for the job."

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