Belfast Telegraph

The dark side of the PSNI must finally see the light

Sinn Fein's support for democratically accountable policing is unambiguous, but not unconditional, says Declan Kearney

Psni Chief Constable Matt Baggott says he sees no "evidence" of a residual "dark side" contaminating the new beginning to policing. But his recent public relations narrative simplistically ignores reality.

He need not look far for the evidence. He should start by reading the material available to him, not just that filtered by others. The shadow of the 'dark side' has been cast across his desk more than once.

Recent references by me and others to this 'dark side' weren't plucked out of the sky. In fact, that's how some of Matt Baggott's own PSNI colleagues have described the in-house cabal of reactionaries still motivated by an unchanged wartime mentality.

Matt Baggott privately knows that. Significantly, his predecessor, Hugh Orde, called them the "Continuity RUC".

Ongoing abuse and misuse of agent recruitment; former PSNI officers refusing to assist investigations into police wrong-doing; leaning on the Police Ombudsman's office and blocking inquests into historical cases - does all of that fall within Matt Baggott's definition of 'the law'?

The above evidence-trail leads directly back to a small, significant group of political detectives. Their activities are opposed to wider PSNI efforts at reforming the organisation and ethos of policing.

Sinn Fein's support for democratically accountable policing is unambiguous, but it is not unconditional.

We have repeatedly said that our party will face down the old guard political detectives who have worked against the peace process.

Contrary to insinuations from other senior PSNI officers, Sinn Fein has no "psychological transition" to make.

We have faced down attempts to intimidate District Policing Partnership (DPP) meetings; condemned apolitical, militarist violence against police officers; and ensured that the Assembly's justice committee works. We will not be derailed by anyone.

All of this coincides with a migration of former Northern Ireland Office figures into the new Department of Justice. Defective prisons policy, the Police Ombudsman debacle and long-standing efforts to hollow out Patten's recommendations reflect a mindset synonymous with the old system.

Of course, some of this was inevitable. Old reactionaries rarely go away. They regroup and they retrench. That is the reality of policing in post-conflict Ireland.

But the change agenda - in the context of the all-Ireland political institutions - is irreversible.

The 'dark side' is not in control. MI5 will not succeed in remilitarising the north. Change is in the ascendancy.

Sinn Fein will resolutely drive and defend the change agenda against its opponents - not least those in the PSNI or their retired colleagues who are intent on targeting republicans to massage bruised egos from a past conflict.

The fact is that, without Sinn Fein holding the PSNI and the Department of Justice to account, none of these issues would even be public. Now the problems are exposed - and we intend to correct them.

The strongest allies to anyone serious about transforming policing in the north are republicans.

Sinn Fein will continue to work with the PSNI and we will build close partnerships with those officers committed to reform and to good policing.

However, we will not accept dismissive platitudes. The Chief Constable needs to start living in the real world.

The PSNI has to start facing the same way. Matt Baggott needs to make up his mind; he can be fettered by the residual 'dark side', or he can act as a brave champion for change inside - and outside - the PSNI.


From Belfast Telegraph