Northern Ireland news

Analysis: While legacy remains unresolved Patten can never be fully realised

Sinn Féin Leader Mary Lou McDonald and Deputy Leader Michelle O'Neill leaving a meeting with the PSNI. Picture by Hugh Russell.

THE row over comments made by Mary Lou McDonald over the appointment of a new chief constable, have created a distraction from the last week's revelations regarding disclosure of sensitive information.

Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice Brendan McGuigan will undertake a review into the methods the PSNI use to disclose information to the Police Ombudsman, after it was revealed documents were not handed over linked to around 30 loyalist murders.

Those murders, like many other stories of loss, have been compounded by a lack of justice and allegations of state collusion.

While some victims have mobilised themselves to pursue justice, many others suffer in silence, let down by the justice system and later a failed political process.

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What those outstanding legacy cases also do is contaminate modern policing.

When the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland was established in 1998 it was seen as a major step on the long road to peace.

Chris Patten created a unique document, that proposed methods of creating a future force that would serve with independence.

Who would have thought that more than 20 years later those reforms would be incomplete, that Patten's vision would not be fully realised?

The 50/50 recruitment process to address religious imbalance did not work in practice, the ongoing dissident threat and targetting of senior Catholic officers, such as Peadar Heffron and Ronan Kerr, deterred many young nationalists from a career in policing.

The failure to implement effective legacy mechanisms, leaving both the PSNI and the Police Ombudsman to deal with the enormous backlog of unsolved cases, has done nothing to help with the performance or public perception of either office.

When the Sinn Féin president said she could not identify someone from the current senior team who she believed should take over when George Hamilton retires in June, she was reflecting the views of the party's northern voter base.

The reality of the situation is that until the past can be separated and dealt with independently from the PSNI - and therefore those with connections to the RUC - policing will never fully transform.

Policing both past and present, while retaining the confidence of both communities and none, is an impossible task.

Looming Brexit uncertainty presents an entirely new challenge to an already under-resourced force.

Whoever takes the top policing job will face the biggest challenge of any chief constable since the end of the Troubles.

It doesn't matter where the new candidate comes from, whether from within the PSNI, or the ranks of An Garda Siochana, or from a UK force, it doesn't matter how qualified they are, how determined they are to police fairly and implement culture change.

It doesn't matter because while legacy remains unresolved policing can never progress and Patten can never be fully realised.

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