I often wonder what expression writers are wearing as they tap out their work – especially journalists, who are commenting on current affairs. This morning, for example, the no-relative Stephen Collins has a piece which comes as near as ninepence to saying “Sinn Féin’s mask has slipped!” He has managed to squeeze into one article total disapproval of Sinn Féin’s representatives going to the swearing-in of the Venezuelan president and Mary Lou McDonald’s souring of relations by raising the question of the border during the centennial celebrations of the first Dáil. So if you’d been sitting on the edge of Stephen’s desk as he tapped all this out, would he have been smiling quietly, or clenching his teeth so his cheek muscles rippled, or laughing maniacally as he landed another verbal punch?
What got me thinking about this was a Press Association piece in the Irish Examiner yesterday. It contained this statement: “The PSNI has received extra resources for Brexit but have officially envisaged light-touch community-style policing.”
The writer is talking about – what else?- a no-deal Brexit and the security arrangements to avert…what? Smuggling, maybe. Orderly queuing of lorries. Maybe civil disobedience as hundreds of people from the border areas protest at the re-imposition of a hard and highly-visible border in Ireland. Or maybe attacks from violent dissident republicans.
So what expression was the PA writer wearing when tippy-tapping out “The PSNI has received extra resources from Brexit but have officially envisaged light-touch community-style policing.”? Was s/he leaning back in their chair letting out shrieks of merriment? Or rage? Maybe they were quietly and sadly shaking their head at the Pollyanna optimism of the statement.
Here’s the thing. Anyone who thinks that the role of the police in the face of hard border imposition will be “light touch” or “community” has forgotten the emergence of the Troubles in the late 1960s, or thinks that it could never happen again. Uh-uh/
As most readers know, I’m not much of a political predictor, but I do know an addle-brained statement when I read it. In fact I once made some good money, after reading a particularly addle-brained statement by Eoghan Harris. And this statement from the PA fits into the same category. Although to be fair to the PA writer, they’re presumably reporting what they’ve been told by the PSNI. No, no, we’ll be mixing with the community, how are ya Sean, all right there Peadar, oh sure that’s a grand day, now we’re out of March (as well as the EU) sure the weather and things generally can only get better, would I like a cup of tea, well now that’s very decent of you, Mrs Murphy, let me get my steel helmet and protective gloves off.
Light touch. Community policing. As a hard border is constructed. Dream on, PA. Dream on, PSNI.