Sinn Fein has not ruled out inviting Matt Baggott to its annual ard fheis — but insisted that his credibility among the nationalist community remains low.
The next ard fheis is not due to be held until May 2012 in Killarney and the decision on inviting the PSNI Chief Constable will be deferred until nearer the event.
Gerry Kelly, the party’s policing spokesman, said: “While it is an interesting suggestion, and presumably the party will give it due consideration, the ard fheis is not until next May, so it’s far too early to suggest who will be invited.”
He was responding cautiously to an interview in yesterday’s Belfast Telegraph to mark the 10th anniversary of the PSNI.
The Chief Constable said: “I am really trying to find ways to take personal policing into the heart of areas where people have doubt. Attending the Sinn Fein ard fheis is one way we could do that.”
Mr Kelly has been publicly critical of Mr Baggott, and had a fraught meeting with him in March. That was after Mr Baggott rejected criticisms by Al Hutchinson, the Police Ombudsman, of the RUC investigation of the UVF bombing of McGurk’s bar in which 15 Catholics were murdered in 1971. Initially the RUC blamed the IRA, but in 1977 Robert Campbell, a UVF member, was arrested and admitted responsibility.
Mr Kelly amplified his criticism of the Chief Constable and questioned his stated commitment to community policing.
He said: “Matt Baggott's credibility rating among the nationalist community is fairly low at the minute. His willingness to attend a Sinn Fein ard fheis sometime next year will not resolve that, nor should it be allowed to distract from significant issues which he has yet to adequately address.”
He went on to claim that Mr Baggott’s “dismissal of criticism by the Police Ombudsman’s Office into the RUC investigation of the McGurk’s atrocity, and also the failure of his organisation to properly investigate the Loughinisland massacre, are just two of many areas of concern”.
Loughinisland was a UVF gun attack in which six people were killed and several wounded in a bar. It later emerged that a police informer, a Catholic member of the UVF codenamed ‘the Mechanic’, had supplied the gunmen’s getaway car. Relatives of the victims and Sinn Fein claimed that the attack had not been properly investigated.
Mr Kelly also questioned PSNI riot control tactics, including what he described as “the continued and unacceptable use of lethal plastic bullets”.
“How he (Mr Baggott) can reconcile this with his apparent commitment to community policing is beyond me,” he stated.
“The key to building confidence and support in the PSNI is evidence of good policing on the ground, of accountable policing,” Mr Kelly said.
In 2007 when Sir Hugh Orde, the previous Chief Constable, suggested that he might attend the ard fheis the offer was rejected out of hand. Mr Kelly’s comments will be seen, by comparison, as part of a process of engagement on the issue.
Story so far
Yesterday the Belfast Telegraph revealed Matt Baggott’s historic offer to appear at the next Sinn Fein ard fheis as he believed it would help increase nationalist confidence in policing in Northern Ireland. At the 2007 ard fheis Sinn Fein voted to support policing. An offer from then Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde to attend the ard fheis was rejected.