No amount of GAA campaigning will remedy PSNI’s situation

Posted By: November 28, 2017

Patrick Fahy. Letters to Editor. Irish News. Belfast. Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Former PSNI officer Peadar Heffron’s anger about what he perceives to be a lack of support from his local GAA [Gaelic Athletic Association] club is understandable. However, his experience and that of other Catholics who since joining the PSNI have suffered varying levels of distancing from their nationalist neighbors raises a fundamental question. This question must be addressed openly and honestly if policing here is to develop normally.

Why do a very substantial majority of the nationalist population still not feel at ease with the PSNI in the same way as other societies inherently relate to? There may be examples of poor and at times arguably partisan policing by the PSNI, but that is not the general experience. By and large, members of the PSNI police in a normal fashion.

The problem they face is that they are not policing a normal society, but instead, a still deeply divided one. The promise of the Good Friday Agreement that there would be new political structures in which unionist and nationalist traditions in the north would for the first time since partition be equally respected and valued has, sadly, not been delivered.

The British government has been guilty of flagrantly and repeatedly breaching the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement and other agreements for equality and parity of esteem between the nationalist and unionist traditions in the north. The Irish government, a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement has stood by and let this happen.

The consequences of all of this are being felt not just in the fall of the power-sharing institutions, but across all of society. The PSNI is a notable casualty. The police service is being used by the British government to play the lead role in trying to block legal efforts by victims of state violence and collusion to find the truth. There are many examples of this, from the recent refusal of police to continue the investigation into the Glenanne murders to their continuing refusal to disclose crucial documentation into the murder of Tyrone councilor Patsy Kelly in 1974. This feeds into a deep lack of trust by nationalists in state agencies generally. In particular, it impacts on nationalist perceptions of the PSNI and on its chance of gaining widespread acceptance. Members of the nationalist community who join the PSNI are among the casualties of this distrust.

No amount of public relations campaigning or encouragement from the GAA hierarchy will remedy the situation in which the PSNI finds itself. For real progress to happen, people must be able to feel that there has been genuine political change. Only then, will the hopes of people like Peadar Heffron that in joining the PSNI they will be able to provide a valuable community service while retaining the confidence and friendships of their nationalist neighbors, be realized.

Attorney  Patrick Fahy. Omagh, Co Tyrone.