Posted By: July 06, 2013


Patrick Murphy. Irish News.(Belfast).Saturday, July 6. 2013

RIGHT, sit up straight and pay attention. In today’s class we are going to study gardening – and if you are well-behaved, we will introduce some politics later. (You might observe that this column knows nothing about gardening – or indeed politics. But as you will notice from Stormont debates, knowing nothing about a subject should never prevent you from speaking on it.)

Our gardening topic is spiky plants, a subject brought to our attention by the PSNI. To deter burglars, they are advising homeowners (those who rent are presumably not worthy of PSNI advice) to use thorny plants as a form of home security. No, we are not making this up and you may not ask why the PSNI did not plant a few spiky species in Fermanagh for the G8 summit and save us all about £80 million.

The information is contained in PSNI’s latest leaflet, ‘Defensive Planting’. Next week, aggressive planting, in which you will be advised how plants can be trained to mug old ladies. The leaflet claims that criminals do not like climbing through prickly plants (were they surveyed?) because they know that ripped clothing or blood can help police identify them. Indeed.

The point in raising this issue is that it offers more evidence that the PSNI is not to be taken seriously. No disrespect to those gallant officers who offer well-rehearsed sound bites but the organisation is a parody of policing. Its growing ineptitude stems from three sources: it is a political creation, designed to protect, patronise and promote an increasingly dysfunctional government; it has no clear demarcation between management and governance and its operational culture is Yes Minister in uniform.

On the positive side, however, it has some interesting plants. (The RUC also used plants but in those days they were called informers. Now they are called peacemakers. Gardening can be so confusing.)

The political origins and designation of the PSNI are clear. Like An Garda Siochana in the fledgling Free State, our policing body is designed to defend new political institutions and pursue remaining armed republicans. In that context, the PSNI is the armed wing of the DUP and Sinn Fein – and you might well support that idea. For Sinn Fein, it suppresses republicans (Marian Price was interned for two years for holding a copy of a speech) and for the DUP it allows flag protesters to march against the Alliance Party. Like the RUC, it is a highly political organisation – although the PSNI serves two parties rather than one.

Its confusion between governance and management was recently illustrated when Gerry Kelly was carried along on the front of a police vehicle. Mr Kelly suggested that since he is an MLA and a PSNI governor (board member), he had the right to intervene in a police operation. In most organisations he would be wrong. A member of an education and library board, for example, does not have the right to query the actions of a school-crossing patrol person.

But since 10 of the 19 Policing Board members are MLAs, this lack of demarcation facilitates political policing and creates the impression that politicians are somehow holding the police to account.

Although funded to an increasingly obscene level, the organisation is poorly managed. The chief constable’s failure to monitor the work of the Historical Enquiries Team prompted the Policing Board to criticise the team – but not the chief constable. Others might regard the police handling of loyalist paramilitary drug dealing as highly dubious.

The PSNI’s strategic planning offers little reassurance. It pledges to “provide best practice in investigating crime” (how very kind of them) and to “make the most of opportunities to detect crime”. (Straight from the script of Yes Minister.) Initiatives include developing “our ability to communicate using the internet” (wonderfully modern) and to “reduce the harm caused by public disorder”, which creates the concept of harmless disorder. This is not policing. This is philosophy.

This top-level ineptitude permeates down to the operational inanity of spiky plants and the advice that you should use ‘crunchy gravel’ on pathways to hear criminals coming. (Non-crunchy gravel can be so disappointing, so always buy gravel with added crunchiness).

Of course we can laugh and suggest that maybe the Policing Board and the chief constable should go on extended gardening leave and bring their plants with them. The PSNI, you might suggest, are a right bunch of comedians.

But try sitting on the road in Ardoyne on July 12 and you will feel just how funny they are.