Thursday, 31 January 2013
We get the politicians we deserve. And the police too?
The Nolan show was discussing the matter of policing last night. The questions tended to be directed at comparisons between the way the police have dealt with the flag protesters and the way they’ve dealt with (and will deal with?) nationalist protesters when they tried to block the road at Ardoyne to prevent an Orange parade.
I think it’s bigger than this ‘Are they as hard with them ‘uns as they are with us ‘uns?’ A few examples.
* The PSNI Chief Constable was on TV a few weeks back explaining why his men didn’t just go in and clear the road of flag protesters, given that they were breaking the law. He said this would be inadvisable as it could provoke worse demonstrations and you could have ten, twenty, thirty thousand people on the streets. On the other hand, Matt, you could have a lot less people on the streets. And it’s hard to see in what way, after eight weeks, Baggott’s policy has produced results. The protesters are still what Prince Harry would call ‘in play’. Any Saturday there’s a rally suggested, people make a point of not going into Belfast and hard-pressed city-centre trade suffers further.
* How is our police service doing if we make comparisons with, say, Britain, or the south of Ireland? The answer to that lies in your imagination. Can you imagine a situation where, for eight weeks (with a short break for Christmas festivities) a small group of people held illegal marches, blocked roads, fired bricks and petrol bombs at police, issued death threats to elected politicians, burned the office of an elected politician, damaged severely city-centre trade and spattered the state’s international reputation in terms of inward investment and tourism - while the police hung back and spoke vaguely of making future arrests?
* Isn’t the PSNI saying anything about the presence in this dispute of the UVF? It’s a generally acknowledged fact that this illegal paramilitary group is working in the background of these protests, yet politicians and police talk about them as though they were members of the local bowling club. Would someone please tell me: isn’t this organisation supposed to have decommissioned and dispersed years ago?
* Public confidence in our policing service is the bedrock of a settled society. If the police show signs that their training stops with issuing speeding tickets and administering breathalyser tests, people are quickly going to lose faith in them. And that’s without comparisons between how they conduct themselves when faced with nationalist/republican protesters.
It’d be wrong to describe the PSNI strategy for dealing with the flag-people’s blatant defiance of the law as inept. It’s worse than that: it seems literally clueless. If it’s a matter of police control vs mob rule, the mob are miles ahead at the moment. Jamie Bryson was on the Nolan show last night via a screened earlier interview, and you could see how deep was his satisfaction at featuring in the limelight and refusing to divulge what further tactics they would employ beyond a white line one. “But it will be peaceful” he told Nolan. That’s probably what Peter Robinson said, when he told the printers to run off 40,000 leaflets urging people to protest against Belfast City Council’s democratic decision. Things can only get better? Don't bet on it.