Irish Republican News · July 9, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Report sells schmaltz and not much else

By Jude Collins (for the Irish News)

The report Policing with the Community slithered out of my newspaper last week and since then I’ve been trying to remember reading a more patronising, ham-fisted document. I can’t.

On the front page, under the PSNI badge, we get the statement: “Making Northern Ireland Safer For Everyone Through Professional, Progressive Policing.”

Is there some new grammatical rule that now requires Every Initial Letter Of Every Word In A Statement To Be Capitalised? Or does the PSNI think we need Big Letters to keep our Attention? Or is this report written by a semi-illiterate?

The dominant image on the front page is a little blonde girl reaching forward to touch a tulip. Beside her, smiling broadly, is a policewoman.

According to Ian Og Paisley and other unionist politicians, the 50-50 recruitment policy is creating a bottle neck, where Catholics of dubious ability are being brought into the police service while better qualified Protestants are being turned away.

As a result, there’s a dearth of police and the north is filled with thugs terrorising old people, attacking people with baseball bats and hurley sticks and shooting young men in the legs and arms.

Shouldn’t this policewoman be out there trying to catch those responsible for this mayhem, instead of tulip-watching?

The policewoman isn’t the only smiler in the document. Underneath her there’s a smaller picture of two smiling police people on bicycles; beneath that there’s a picture of a smiling policewoman and policeman talking to a smiling middle-aged woman outside her home.

On page two, Chief Constable Hugh Orde beams out; page three features the laughing face of Assistant Chief Constable Stephen White; page four it’s Assistant Chief Constable Peter Sheridan’s turn. And so it goes. Judging by the images in this document, the PSNI must be the cheeriest police force in Europe.

The text in the report sounds a similarly happy note. Hugh Orde in his page two message tells us that last year there were 14,000 fewer victims of crime - “a direct result of good police work” and the support of the police by communities.

On page seven we’re encouraged to be glad that there are speed cameras “at more than 80 locations across the Province”, since these are being joined to the commitment of the police service to make our roads safer.

More safety is ensured by the fact that a number of officers have been trained in Drugs Influence Recognition and Field Impairment Testing technique “across the Province”. Did they consult the gardai, I wonder, before installing the cameras and personnel in Donegal?

All this upbeat stuff is further ta-rahed by headlines that could have come straight from George Orwell’s novel 1984.

“Integrity is not negotiable”; “Our people - our strength”; “Police - Planning to succeed”. Such a decisive tone, don’t you think?

The fact that these trumpet blasts don’t really mean very much is beside the point. They’re not meant to. Their purpose is to make the reader feel good when he or she hears the name ‘PSNI’. And to take the reader’s mind away from other, less pleasant matters that relate to the PSNI.

Unfortunately, these unpleasant matters continue to press on the minds of tens of thousands of people here when they think about policing.

Such matters as whatever became of the Special Branch personnel who wielded such clout in the RUC? And who in the end controls this new police service - the elected representatives of the people here or a British Secretary of State who hasn’t received a single vote from any section of the north’s population?

And then there’s the matter of how informants are currently being used and the festering question of collusion, with its roots running back into the graves of Robert Hamill, Rosemary Nelson, Pat Finucane and, yes, Billy Wright and God knows how many dozens of others.

“Working to make Northern Ireland safer” is the heading over Hugh Orde’s message in this report, and it’s a commendable goal. So too is his constantly reiterated desire to work with communities here to establish a successful police service.

But these things don’t get built on a foundation of flowers, smiles and slogans. People here aren’t stupid and the fact that they remember how, for decades, bad policing was a major part of the problem here doesn’t mean they’re backward-looking or unwilling to make a new start.

Policing and the community should, must be built on mutual respect. This report, stuffed with soft-focus schmaltz and slogans, tells us a lot about how much respect the PSNI currently has for our intelligence.

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© 2004 Irish Republican News