Category: Archive

Editorial: Policing the North

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

This week may well prove to be one of the most crucial in the history of the peace process if for no other reason than that the Patten Report on policing is scheduled to appear on Thursday, Sept. 9. That it should come the very week that former Sen. George Mitchell began his review of the current impasse over decommissioning and the setting up of the new executive may also prove of decisive significance. It is certain that if the report recommends any meaningful reforms at all, then Mitchell’s job of trying to convince the Unionists to compromise on their demand of "no guns, no government" will prove impossible. If, on the other hand, it is what Sinn Fein might call a "whitewash," then attempting to get republicans to be more flexible on the disarmament issue will prove equally impossible.

Those are the political realities of the situation — the usual intractable set of conflicting elements that make up the Northern Ireland problem. Of those factors, policing reform is undoubtedly one of the most difficult — and for any would-be reformer, most dangerous, politically speaking.

Patten has no vested political interest in Northern Ireland. It is to be hoped that this has enabled him to address the essential underlying issues, regardless of any immediate political discomfiture it might cause. These are to do with fairness, balance and ethos. A force has to be created that will be trusted by both sides of the community, and that is able and willing to act to win that trust. The sectarian imbalance within a force which is over 90 percent Protestant has to be ended. The paramilitary mentality that grew up over years of political violence has no place in a society in which politics has replaced violence as the way to resolve conflicts. Any reforms that his committee may propose that do not outline ways of achieving these goals will be worthless.

These are the long-term realities, and unless they made the basis of police reform, then the hope of building an equitable and just society in the North will be dashed.

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