West Belfast divided as PSNI chief addresses event
West Belfast divided as PSNI chief addresses event


Republicans held a protest in west Belfast on Thursday evening as the PSNI police chief George Hamilton took part in a discussion panel event alongside Sinn Fein’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

The visit of the PSNI chief took place as part of a series of talks organised for the West Belfast festival. However, the event sharply divided the west Belfast community, and hundreds or republicans gathered both inside and outside the venue, St Mary’s College on the Falls Road, which was ringed by 15 armoured police vehicles.

The Anti-Internment League held a protest behind police lines against ongoing PSNI harassment of nationalists, including the recent use on British soldiers in raids and searches.

“We find it unacceptable that George Hamilton has been welcomed to a festival that is meant to be organised by the community, given the high level of harassment and intimidation of residents in west Belfast by the PSNI,” said a spokesperson.

“The PSNI is under the direction of MI5 and it is totally unaccountable.”


Protestors also criticised the festival’s use of a ‘family fun day’ to allow the PSNI place their weapons in the hands of nationalist children. One young boy was photographed with what appeared to be a loaded PSNI sub-machine gun and later playing inside a PSNI armoured jeep.

The Irish Republican Socialist Party said the scenes were a repetition of a practice from decades gone by, wherein the British Army regularly allowed young children to handle their rifles, in an attempt to win over children from working class areas.

Gerry Foster of Belfast IRSP said the children were being exploited by armed PSNI officers for political and tactical ends. “This is an action straight out of the British Army hand book, it is very very wrong and will be criticised by all right thinking people,” he said.

However, inside the event, there was a very different tone and an audience which loudly applauded the PSNI man’s contributions.

“I have come because I believe the vast majority of people in our society want a better future for the next generation, for my children and yours,” said Hamilton.

“I think we need to be brave and courageous -- easy words to say. I think we need to believe in our ability to continue to build a safe, confident, peaceful society together.”

The focus of public questioning was the force’s failure to advance promised investigations on state killings and collusion

Bereaved relatives also pursued Hamilton over delays in disclosing documents to legacy inquests. The PSNI chief sidestepped such questions by suggesting they would be best handled by a future ‘Historical Inquiries Unit’, as outlined in the stalled Stormont House Agreement.

Mr McGuinness praised Hamilton for attending.

“We have all been on a journey and it’s been a very difficult journey over the course of the last 20 years,” he said.

“Tonight is another act of reconciliation. I think George Hamilton is as passionate about the peace process as I am.”

The Stormont Minister said republicans had to stretch themselves further.

“Because republicans too, if people are to learn the truth about what happened during the conflict, will have their particular unique contribution to make. As a republican, I am prepared to make that contribution.”

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