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.

9 Responses to We get the politicians we deserve. And the police too?

  1. Anonymous January 31, 2013 at 11:55 am #

    I'd imagine that GARC in Ardoyne are rubbing their hands in anticipation of sitting in the Crumlin Rd on the Twalf. The police simply cannot forcibly remove them now. If they do, disgruntled republicans will say bias is being shown, as with the old RUC, and -I say this as an SDLP voter -they'll be factually correct too!!

  2. Anonymous January 31, 2013 at 12:14 pm #

    That's the only reason Bryson's standing in by-election in midulster, ie the exposure he'll get. More shameful than him was gregory Campbell's defending the rioters and playing down the roadblocking, but conveniently forgetting to mention the attepted murder of a police officer. So the question should have been asked by Nolan, 'Does Campbell give unstinting support to the PSNI when it's his side's rioters involved. Nolan let him off scot free.[madraj55]

  3. giordanobruno January 31, 2013 at 12:39 pm #

    It is easy to criticise the PSNI handling of these protests, but if you were in charge precisely what would you do?
    Have them wade into the middle of a large crowd of men women and children? How would that pan out do you think?
    As far as I know there have been no deaths directly from the protests so far.
    I'm all in favour of arresting as many as possible and giving them stiff sentences, and if it can safely be done on the ground well and good, but identifying them and picking them up later seems like a better way to do this.
    So let's hear your operational tactics for arresting hundreds of protesters Jude? Preferably without killing any children.

  4. Jude Collins January 31, 2013 at 1:01 pm #

    gio – some things are easier to criticise than others. The PSNI have the training and the responsibility to enforce the law. To ask me what would I do is daft – I haven't been trained in crowd control nor do I have responsibility for it. We pay the PSNI (and pay them quite well) to see that the law is observed. For some eight weeks we've had flagrant breaking of the law and all that I see is the PSNI being pelted and staying where they are. I can understand the notion of not wanting to inflame the situation. I can even (just about) take Matt Baggott's point that you could, if ham-fisted, have 10, 20, 30,000 out protesting. But there comes a point where you wonder how effective softly softly tactics are if death threats, road blockages, trade disruption, burning of the office of a politician occur for eight weeks and PSNI says we mustn't rush in. The truth is, it looks as though the law-breaking flag protesters are facing down the police. That way anarchy lies.

  5. Jude Collins January 31, 2013 at 1:04 pm #

    Anon 11:55 and 12:14 – I;m in general agreement with what you said. Public confidence in an even-handed police service is central and the last eight weeks have seriously damaged their image as such.

  6. Anonymous January 31, 2013 at 4:55 pm #

    Jamie Bryson 3wks ago: arrested protesters should refuse bail conditions and go to jail, long road, lonely cells etc.

    Jamie Bryson 2wks ago: among a set of demands to end protests, all remanded/jailed protesters should be released unconditionally

    Jamie Bryson this week: protests to be peaceful whiteline protests, no others protests being supported (he can't say that there won't be anyother sort,a split?)

    Just the sort of consistency that the p/u/l community needs.

  7. giordanobruno January 31, 2013 at 7:44 pm #

    On the whole I agree with what you are saying. I just don't see an obvious way for the PSNI to proceed.
    The smaller protests I reckon can, and should, be cleared from blocking roads,and as far as I know that is now the policy.
    The larger ones,like it or not have to be handled more carefully.
    Believe me, I share your frustration. These people are bringing out my inner Bruce Willis who wants too see some ass being whupped.

  8. Thomas Russell January 31, 2013 at 9:57 pm #

    Gio, the alternative, as Gerry Lynch said on Twitter, is the doctrine of force majeure, like '90s Drumcree. Indeed, like partition itself. If the PUL is exempt from the rule of law, then, frankly, the Dissident analysis of Northern Ireland is accurate.

  9. giordanobruno February 2, 2013 at 7:33 am #

    I certainly don't want another Drumcree. Events now seem to be pointing towards a scaling down in favour of whiteline protests.
    The police have made mistakes alright, but no deaths, a number of arrests with more to come, maybe they had the right approach, if the execution was not always great.
    Like I asked Jude, what should they have done?