Belfast Telegraph

Police paying the price for political failure to tackle the past

By George Hamilton

The extent to which the legacy of the past has implications for both the present and the future cannot be underestimated. Within weeks of becoming Chief Constable in 2014 I spoke about this issue, warning that "action is needed if policing, and indeed our peace process, is not to be dragged backward".

Months later it seemed that action had indeed been taken, in the form of the Stormont House Agreement.

I welcomed and offered my full support to all the proposals set out in that agreement for dealing with the past.

Three years have since passed and, despite the efforts of officials working on legislation, nothing has changed.

The failure to make progress on dealing with the past over the last three years has come at both a financial cost and a cost to confidence in policing. And that cost will continue to increase the longer that the ongoing delay continues.

I want to be clear - the PSNI is committed to fulfilling a role in responding to Northern Ireland's troubled past, not least because we are legally obliged to do so, but because dealing with the past is essential to a safe, confident and peaceful future.

But as Chief Constable I have to balance this commitment with the very real demands of keeping people safe in the present day. It would be both unfair and irresponsible not to make clear the significant strain that the current piecemeal approach to our history is placing on my organisation. In just one recent example, I have had to transfer 16 detectives from working on current terrorist and child protection investigations to deal with the disclosure of documents in just one legacy case.

I am on the record as saying that I want to fulfil our duties in the professional manner that victims deserve. But even if I had infinite resources, I could not service the current legacy demands at the rate that is required because we have a limited number of officers and staff with the specialist skills and knowledge required for investigation and disclosure.

However, the reality is that I do not have infinite resources. In fact, I face a rapidly reducing budget. As Chief Constable I am frustrated and concerned by the absence of progress on dealing with the past. But this cannot compare to the raw hurt and pain that grieving families experience.

I fully accept that reaching agreement on such a challenging issue is not easy for those in political leadership. But surely, as a society, we have come too far and achieved too much to give up.

George Hamilton is Chief Constable of the PSNI

Belfast Telegraph

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