By Brian Feeney (for the Irish News)
It was the French politician Georges Clemenceau who said “war is too serious a matter to entrust to military men’’.
It’s a pity the British administration here wouldn’t take that maxim on board and apply it to both the police and army.
In the past week we’ve had two very serious incidents involving these organisations.
First, in Ardoyne, when police blazed away in a densely populated area firing an unknown number of shots, one of which went through the glass in the door of an occupied house and embedded itself in a wall inside.
Secondly, in Crossmaglen, when a helicopter came down in playing fields yards from houses.
The pilot seems to have done an excellent job in minimising injuries to his crew and passengers and avoiding any of the nearby homes. All very well but why were four police being ferried around in a military helicopter?
Here’s what Chief Superintendent Hunniford said in February as the fortifications at Crossmaglen barracks were being removed: “The police are committed to delivering an effective service to the Newry and Mourne area and are already policing in the area without military support and delivering a policing service using vehicles and beat patrols. We want to work with the community and we want to deliver policing in south Armagh in the same way that policing is being delivered anywhere in Northern Ireland.’’
So people can look forward to helicopters and Keystone Cops charging around housing estates firing shots into homes?
There’s supposed to be accountability from the police but there isn’t.
It’s exactly 11 months since a policeman shot dead a man at Ballynahinch in mysterious and disputed circumstances.
The local MP Eddie McGrady called for the policeman to be suspended. He was wasting his breath. The chief constable palmed off powder-puff questions from the Policing Board. The Police Ombudsman will report this year, next year, sometime, whenever.
It’s the same with last week’s Ardoyne shooting. As far as we know, the ombudsman’s office still hasn’t even questioned the policeman who opened fire.
On the face of it, the actions in Ardoyne contravened the PSNI’s own policy, supposedly at one with the European Convention on Human Rights, namely forbidding lethal force “simply to prevent the escape of a person’’.
Firing a gun was maximum force despite no suggestion there was any other weapon involved.
Will we ever find out what happened and why?
As for the helicopter crash, the British army will investigate that. They are a law onto themselves as we witnessed last week with the failure to convict any soldier of the murder and serious assaults of Iraqis in Basra. Oh yes, except the guy who pleaded guilty.
Contrary to Clemenceau’s advice, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) was allowed to do exactly as it pleased here since the day and hour British soldiers walked onto the streets in August 1969.
Despite the appalling damage military misbehaviour here caused the Northern Ireland Office never had any say in MoD decisions - still doesn’t.
There’s no hope of having any influence on the British army so we’ll never know what happened that helicopter or why.
Is there any more hope with the police?
It’s clear that so far the PSNI are still unable to see themselves as public servants.
Statements from the Police Federation attacking the ombudsman’s office and the whole concept of open policing are profoundly disturbing.
It seems the Police Federation believes its duty is to protect the tawdry, discredited reputation of the defunct RUC rather than to embrace a new style of police service.
It’s going to be a long haul.
Only with some prospect of local control from a minister in charge of policing is there likely to be the sea change in attitude needed to prevent the sort of scenes that terrified people in Ardoyne.
At the very least people were entitled to a police press conference to explain what police thought they were doing. Instead - silence and the excuse that it’s all under investigation.
Sadly senior PSNI people still think it’s OK to charge into a place, fire shots and drive away without explanation.
When will they learn that’s not normal policing?