Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Police are there to serve all equally

The Chairman of the Police Federation of Northern Ireland, Terry Spence, has given a timely warning that the police must be allowed to remain above politics in carrying out their difficult role.

He has underlined how unionist politicians, and indeed members of the unionist community, have caused problems in previous years by assuming that the former RUC was in effect "their" police force.

Mr Spence is correct to point out that this made it even more difficult for the police to carry out their role in an even-handed way. A perception of being identified with one or other side of the political divide was not in the interests of anyone, including the police themselves. He also points out that the Federation accepted the controversial name change from the RUC to the PSNI, and also the 50/50 recruitment of Roman Catholics into the force.

Though this may have disappointed those who looked to the RUC for many years as a bulwark against terrorism from all sides, the name change and the wider recruitment policy were necessary to underline the importance of a new start.

The police have traditionally attracted criticism from the nationalist community, and most recently following the search of the home of the Mayor of Derry. It is important, however, to underline also that the police are required to remain even-handed within a still-divided community, and no-one can doubt their courage and determination, as was seen during the recent Ardoyne riots.

Apart from political considerations, the police face many urgent challenges, including budget cuts, the threats from dissidents, the marching season, the historical investigations and other pressing problems. They need to be allowed to rise above party politics and not to be used as a political football by politicians from any quarter.

What most people want is effective day-to-day policing, and the PSNI must be allowed to get on with their job without fear or favour, and free from any political involvement. The police do not belong to any community. They are there to police and to serve all of us impartially.

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