It’s becoming increasingly clear that we have a police problem. Most of us know that the role played by the RUC during the Troubles produced massive difficulties, not least because of inadequate Catholic recruitment and deep suspicion of collusion. Seeing the vital role the forces of law-and-order play in any society, Chris Patten was drafted in and he came up with a new police force – sorry, police service (an important distinction), the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Now, however, there are signs that the PSNI may be falling into the same old corrupt ways that damned the RUC.
Anyone who has seen the film No Stone Unturned (and if you haven’t, check it out – it will raise your eyebrows past your hairline) will know that the RUC investigation of the Loughinisland killings has been shown to be slipshod at best and collusive at worst. Even more worrying: the efforts of the PSNI to get to the bottom of what happened at Loughinisland in 1994, when six innocent people were gunned down, showed a lack of investigative rigour reminiscent of their RUC predecessors. And of course we all know that the two journalists who investigated the Loughinisland investigation (still with me, Virginia? Good) were themselves arrested and accused of stealing material from the Ombudsman’s office.
The most recent controversy involving the PSNI was highlighted on Stephen Nolan’s radio show the other morning. In 1992, five innocent people were killed in the Sean Graham bookmakers . In 2010, the Belfast Telegraph reported that one of the guns used for the killings was – wait for this – given back to the loyalist killer gang by the police. As if that were not enough, the Police Ombudsman has recently discovered that relevant evidence to the case, which the PSNI claimed not to have, was in fact on a PSNI computer. But it’s OK – the PSNI have apologized.
Well no, actually, it’s not OK. As Nolan so effectively pointed out, if the PSNI had been interrogating a suspect, and at the end of the suspect’s story the PSNI had pointed out how the suspect had not revealed a significant part of the story, the police would hardly have been happy with “Oh, cripes, guys, that bit slipped my mind. Here, put it into my story now. Sorry about that”.
When the PSNI first appeared on the streets, they were exceptionally courteous: they looked different, they sounded different, and with 50:50 recruitment of people from a Catholic and Protestant background, they were different. Since then, they have made move after move, or failed to make move after move, which has aroused real suspicion in the nationalist/republican community that the PSNI is old, stale, bitter wine in stylish new wine-skins. Let’s pray that’s not the case.