The dark side of the PSNI must finally see the light - Declan Kearney
“PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott says he sees no “evidence” of a residual "dark side" contaminating the new beginning to policing. But his recent public relations narrative simplistically ignores reality.
He need not look far for the evidence. He should start by reading the material available to him, not just that filtered by others. The shadow of the ‘dark side’ has been cast across his desk more than once.
Recent references by me and others to this ‘dark side’ weren’t plucked out of the sky. In fact, that’s how some of Matt Baggott’s own PSNI colleagues have described the in-house cabal of reactionaries still motivated by an unchanged war-time mentality. Matt Baggott privately knows that. Significantly, Hugh Orde called them the ‘Continuity RUC’.
Ongoing abuse and misuse of agent recruitment; complaint patterns in certain areas; former PSNI officers refusing to assist investigations into police wrong-doing; leaning on the Police Ombudsman’s office and undermining Nuala O’Loan; the role of leading agents provocateurs agitating against the peace process – including attacks on police, and last summer’s orchestrated violence in Belfast’s Broadway and St James’ area; aggressive Tactical Support Groups’ behavior; blocking inquests in historical cases. Does all that fall within Matt Baggott’s definition of ‘the law’?
The above evidence trail leads directly back to a small, significant group of political detectives – many rehired into Crime Department. Their activities are opposed to wider PSNI efforts at reforming the organization and ethos of policing.
Sinn Fein’s support for democratically accountable policing is unambiguous, but it is not unconditional. We have repeatedly said that our Party will face down the old guard political detectives who have worked against the peace process.
Contrary to insinuations from other senior PSNI officers, Sinn Féin has no “psychological transition” to make. We have faced down attempts to intimidate DPP meetings; condemned apolitical, militarist violence against police officers; and, ensured the Assembly Justice Committee works. We will not be derailed by anyone.
All this coincides with a migration of former Northern Ireland Office figures into the new Department of Justice (DOJ). Defective prisons policy, the Police Ombudsman debacle, and long-standing efforts to hollow out Patten’s recommendations reflect a mindset synonymous with the old system.
Of course, some of this was inevitable. Old reactionaries rarely go away. They regroup and retrench. That’s the reality of policing in post conflict Ireland.
But the change agenda - in the context of the all-Ireland political institutions - is irreversible. The 'dark side' is not in control. MI5 will not succeed in remilitarizing the north. Change is in the ascendancy.
Sinn Fein will resolutely drive, and defend the change agenda against all its opponents – not least those in the PSNI, or their retired colleagues, now in the Serious Organized Crime Agency (SOCA), intent on vindictively targeting republicans to massage bruised egos from a past conflict.
The fact is that without Sinn Féin holding the PSNI and DOJ to account, none of these issues would even be public. Now the problems are exposed, and we intend to correct them.
The strongest allies to anyone serious about transforming policing in the north are republicans.
Sinn Fein will continue to work with the PSNI, and we will build close partnerships with those officers committed to reform and good policing. However, we will not accept dismissive platitudes. The Chief Constable needs to start living in the real world.
The PSNI has to start facing the same way. Matt Baggott needs to make his mind up; he can be fettered by the residual 'dark side', or, act as a brave champion for change inside, and outside the PSNI.”