Alex Maskey Speaks on Motion 18
In the course of recent years policing in the north has undergone a significant change. The transition from what was into a civic policing service will represent a transformation of policing in the six counties.
Some of this has been due to strong negotiation by Sinn Féin. Some of it is down to legislation emerging from those negotiations. Some of it is down to better policing on the ground but all of it is dependent on the need for the PSNI to win and maintain widespread community support.
The template for the PSNI leadership is there.
The Good Friday Agreement demanded a democratically accountable civic policing service, free from partisan political control.
Patten set out a series of recommendations to take us to that point.
Almost two years ago Sinn Féin took the historic decision to engage with policing structures in the north.
This was not a blank cheque.
It was a strategic decision taken after much internal discussion, a series of public meetings and against the history of our experiences.
The aim was to ensure that the PSNI take the necessary next steps in delivering effective community based policing which communities can buy into and have confidence in.
This was about holding policing to account, but also about shaping future policing in response to peoples needs.
The Sinn Féin decision, momentous as it was, did not or does not in itself bridge the gap which clearly has grown up over many years between policing and citizens, in particular the nationalist and republican community.
In effect Sinn Féin’s decision created an unprecedented opportunity for the PSNI, at all levels, to prove to the community that it merits support and can deliver an effective community based service.
The nationalist experience of policing has been unacceptable. We only have to look at the inquiries into the murders of Rosemary Nelson and Robert Hamill to see that. Or the failure to move on the Pat Finucane case or the ongoing withholding of information from the inquests into a number of killings including that of Pearse Jordan.
Policing in the north needs to completely throw off the shackles of the past.
Those who learned their trade in the torture centres or in the shady and secretive policing corners which brought us collusion, shoot to kill and other human rights abuses are simply not suited to policing.
Many have already gone and that is welcome.
However some remain. And some of the bad practice remains and that must change
Sinn Fein’s focus is on changing that and the opportunity exists to achieve this.
Significant change and progress has been made through political negotiations as well as in constructive and direct dialogue with the PSNI, the Policing Board and the District policing Partnership Boards.
But there is still much to be done.
Police Officers need to concentrate on policing.
Politics should be left to politicians.
Too often this Chief Constable has made political comment.
The effect of this has been to undermine confidence in him and in the PSNI fulfilling their obligations.
If you are a victim of crime you want to hear the Chief Constable talking about strategies to prevent crime and catch criminals.
You want to hear him talk about delivering for communities.
You want to hear him spell out the policing policies that will make a difference in tackling anti-social behaviour; attacks on our elderly; domestic violence; the distribution of drugs; road traffic accidents and other matters.
Too often we get excuses.
Too often the Chief Constable has sought to explain away failures rather than accepting that faults and flaws still do exist and outlining proposals for ending them.
Citizens are not stupid. They understand the difficulties under which policing operates, especially in the north.
But they don’t want excuses – they want honesty, transparency and policies and strategies that will make a real difference now and in the future.
That is key.
I see a large part of Sinn Féin’s job being about holding the police to account and of ensuring that any malign influence does not contaminate and subvert the good work being carried out by officers at all levels.
And that brings me to my central point today.
The conflict is over.
Policing needs to reflect this reality also.
In recent months senior PSNI officers have been regularly talking up the so called dissident republican threat.
Clearly there is some level of threat from these small groups and the remnants of the loyalist gangs. I do not seek to minimise that. But it cannot be allowed to be used by those with one eye on the old ways, to slip back into the sort of political policing which blighted our situation for so long or to use it as an excuse not to deliver a quality front line civic policing service.
Let me make it clear.
Sinn Féin is determined that the PSNI and policing policy is about looking forward not back; determined to continue with our responsibilities in this and to play our role to the full.
In the coming months there will be significant changes in the leadership of the PSNI and the Policing Board. This will provide further opportunities for progressive change.
Sinn Féin will not be deflected from the road we have taken and the policing task we have set ourselves.
And we have proven by our efforts over the last two years our determination to work in partnership with the community and the PSNI to deliver the Good Friday Agreement vision on policing.
The PSNI has to demonstrate the same commitment to ongoing and radical change.
In the course of this work, and I wish to place this on the record, that I have found many willing and able partners both in the PSNI and on the Policing Board.
I know the PSNI have also found increasing numbers of people within our communities prepared to do the same. Despite their many and often very negative personal experiences.
Engagement with the community is key. Good policing will result from partnership between the community and a civic policing service. Partnership requires agreement and co-operation.
But the PSNI leadership must not take their eye off the prize or take people for granted or retreat back into the failed strategies of the past.
People have rightly high expectations for policing here.
Our communities deserve and expect top quality policing.
Sinn Féin is working with all levels of the PSNI and others to ensure that we achieve this goal and will continue to do so.