A horrible year for the PSNI
A horrible year for the PSNI


By Andreé Murphy (for Belfast Media)

It was hard to think of a way that the PSNI’s year could have gotten worse, but somehow they managed it this week.

News that the PSNI was involved in discussions about criminal damage to the Belfast Multi-Cultural Association’s building in Donegal Pass and suggested to representatives of that group that they should “reassure” members of local loyalist paramilitaries that the building was not being used as a mosque has provided confirmation of so many bad assumptions that so many of us held about that incident.

Firstly, it is evidence of how institutionalised racism works in the PSNI. By pandering to any idea that a community might be “reassured” that a community building was not being used as a mosque immediately suggests an illegitimacy of a local mosque. This in turn legitimises opposition to a mosque or to the practising of Islam. This in turn legitimises suspicion of a community and enables racist and bigoted attacks. When it is a state agency that indulges and fosters the pattern, then that is institutional.

Secondly, it is an indication of the privileging of loyalist paramilitaries. By suggesting that pandering to the racist whims of loyalist groupings might save the building from arson and destruction, the PSNI gave influence and power to the groupings and their criminality and de-legitimised the expectation of this or any community group and their multi-cultural members to legal protection and the upholding of law.

Of course, in the context of 2023 this is a mere compounding of our understanding of what the PSNI dream of an accountable police service for everyone has become. Sullied by the impunity of RUC past relationships with loyalism, undermining itself with its defense of RUC personnel and reputation, the PSNI has become compromised to the point where we have no idea what its mission actually is.

The inexplicable actions of the PSNI in the legacy courts, where bereaved victims of the conflict are treated as adversaries and deliberately treated with contempt as they seek basic disclosure regarding the killings of their loved ones, should provoke howls from those interested in basic decency. Instead it is accepted as just what the PSNI does.

The PSNI facilitation of masked loyalists in a murder trial sitting feet away from bereaved relatives, without challenge for nearly two days, was again treated to shrugs of “What do you expect?”

Last week the Police Ombudsman released a report into PSNI actions surrounding the death of Gerard McMahon that should have stopped the lights. It passed without a sniff of accountability.

Chief Constables come and go but the PSNI slide into disrepute continues unabated.

It is not good enough. There must be public scrutiny of the treatment of families in the legacy courts. It is outrageous that families’ tenacity is taking the place of official processes. There must be independent examination of the relationship between the PSNI and loyalist paramilitaries, instead of scrutiny by media headlines. There of course needs to be an inquiry into how the Belfast Multi-Cultural Association’s building ended up in flames and that community left without protection.

There needs to be a Patten Mark II with genuine commitment to change before it is too late for the PSNI – and for all of us.

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