But the chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), Hugh Orde, vigorously defended his organization from criticism, calling on Sinn Fein to fully cooperate with new policing arrangements. He also noted that people serving in U.S. police forces are welcome to apply for positions in the PSNI, which recruits 440 officers each year.
Orde shed little light, however, on the highly controversial “Stormontgate” case.
A high-profile police raid on Sinn Fein’s offices at Stormont, near Belfast, took place shortly after Orde assumed his present role in 2002.
The raid resulted in allegations about the existence of an Irish republican “spy ring.” The devolved institutions in the north were suspended shortly afterwards.
But last week the three men accused in the case had all charges against them dropped. At an unlisted hearing at Belfast Crown Court, the prosecution said it had decided “in the public interest” to offer no evidence.
The decision caused a storm, with republicans alleging the entire imbroglio had been cooked up to blacken Sinn Fein’s name and ease pressure on the Ulster Unionist leader at the time of the raid, David Trimble.
Unionists, for their part, have speculated that the Stormont case was withdrawn as part of a secret deal between Sinn Fein and the British government.
Orde told the Irish Echo that the decision not to proceed with the case was “a matter for the director [of public prosecutions]. I fully understand his decision and I am certainly not going to criticize his decision. But this didn’t start with us trying to create some event. It started with someone trying to steal some stuff they shouldn’t have.”
Orde, who was visiting New York after attending a policing conference in San Diego, added that while the ideal outcome in all cases was to let the judicial process take its course, “just because you arrest people doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to convict them. I’m not looking for anyone else in relation to Stormont.”
When asked whether he could say anything more about why the case was, as he put it, “pulled”, he replied, “Not a lot.”
On the broader picture of policing, Orde claimed that the PSNI “has done everything it has been asked to do,” in relation to reform.
“If Sinn Fein don’t come on board soon, I don’t know what else there is to do. We’re delivering. Their position on policing is becoming increasingly untenable,” he claimed.
Sinn Fein has been reluctant to endorse new policing arrangements in part because of long-held suspicion of the police force among nationalists and republicans, and the contentious nature of the PSNI’s predecessor, the RUC. The Stormont case will not help bolster nationalist confidence that a new era of policing has dawned.
Previously, allegations were made that elements within the RUC, like Special Branch, operated as a “force within a force.” Asked if he acknowledged that a force within a force once existed, Orde replied:
“I spent two and a half years investigating it. Of course there was.”
Orde suggested that the phenomenon been caused by legitimate concerns about how to use intelligence.
However, the chief constable pointed to recent evidence that could be seen as more favorable to the PSNI, such as the force’s success in withstanding attacks from loyalist paramilitaries in September. An Orange parade on Sept. 10 was banned from proceeding along part of the nationalist Springfield Road in Belfast. The ban incited loyalist rage.
“We proved beyond doubt that we can defend any community from violence,” Orde said. The loyalist violence, he noted, included “150 live rounds fired at cops, [there was] a [PSNI] Landrover with 30 bullet strike marks on it. Petrol bombs, blast bombs were all thrown at cops who were preventing people from getting into a Catholic estate.”
Police recruitment in the north now must comprise 50 percent Protestants and 50 percent Catholics. In noting that people from the U.S. were eligible to apply, Orde said:
“I’ve got a French lady, I’ve got an American, I’ve got an ex-marine, there’s a guy from New Zealand serving in Derry. Opening up any organization to different thinking is really important.”