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Forces of hate could fill vacuum in Northern Ireland - Orde warning to Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness

By David Gordon and Noel McAdam

Sir Hugh Orde warned Stormont’s top two politicians that their lack of a strategy to tackle sectarianism was playing into the hands of extremists.

Sir Hugh wrote to the First Minister and deputy First Minister in his last weeks as PSNI chief constable, questioning the ongoing failure to publish a key government document on community relations. A copy of his starkly-worded letter has been obtained by this newspaper.

In it, Sir Hugh complained about the absence of a “coherent and credible strategy” for tackling sectarian and racial hatred.

But the DUP and Sinn Fein today remained at odds. Former DUP Junior Minister Jeffrey Donaldson said: “I understand the frustration expressed by the former Chief Constable and indeed that frustration is shared by my party. In fact we felt we were very close to agreement in principle with Sinn Fein last autumn on a revised strategy for cohesion, sharing and integration only to discover that there were still problems within Sinn Fein and since then the issue has been left in limbo.”

His attack came as Sinn Fein today prepared to fill the vacuum by launching its own proposals in a new document called Rights and Respect: A Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration. Sinn Fein MLA Alex Maskey said: “We have been doing all we can to try to sort these matters out but they can only be sorted out in the proper terms.

“Equality underpins every aspect of what we are trying to achieve, it is at the very heart of power-sharing and it is something which unionists fail to understand. But we are here to demonstrate how important it is and there is no resiling from that.”

The Chief Constable's letter began by acknowledging the desire of community, civic and political leaders to overcome division. He said he and senior colleagues had been “greatly encouraged over recent years” on this point.

He also referred to police work in addressing the “scourge” of sectarian and racial crimes and acknowledged the supportive attitude of Government bodies — including the OFMDFM department headed by Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness.

Sir Hugh said: “However, what is evermore apparent is the lack of a coherent and credible strategy within which to operate.”

The Chief Constable’s letter also referred to the Romanian families who were forced out of their homes in Belfast earlier this year.

Sir Hugh stepped down as chief constable last month to take up the top post with the UK's Association of Chief Police Officers. His letter was sent in late July.

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