The issue of policing was one of the core issues in the negotiations which led to the Good Friday Agreement. Sinn Féin’s consistent focus throughout was to deliver a policing service that marked a clear departure from the RUC as a sectarian, repressive and security dominated force.
As a result of the Agreement, the Patten Commission was established to deliver “a new beginning to policing with a police service capable of attracting and sustaining support from the community as a whole”.
After extensive consultation, the commission brought forward 175 recommendations to deliver a policing service which was “professional, effective and efficient, fair and impartial, free from partisan political control”. It also acknowledged that the policing service needed to be representative of the community it polices and conform with human rights norms.
The Patten Report offered a vision of a future policing model. It also represented a break with the failed approaches of the past. The PSNI is not the one-sided partisan police force that was the RUC. There has been substantial progress.
But challenges do remain.
The general role of the PSNI in legacy is a major challenge to current policing. The failure to disclose information to legacy inquests, and to hold to account former RUC agent handlers involved in collusion is corroding confidence levels across the community. This is most recently exemplified in the Sean Brown case. To date the inquest has not been completed and now, more than 26 years after the killing, 18 new files of sensitive material have just been made available for review. Such delays are corroding wider community confidence.
- Sinn Féin did not threaten to withdraw support for policing – Gerry Kelly
- Sean Brown family urge Jon Boutcher to 'intervene immediately' after new information disclosed
The PSNI legacy remit is now a real barrier to republicans and nationalists pursuing a career in policing and needs to be addressed urgently.
Nationalist, republican, and working-class communities are under-represented in the PSNI as are women, the LGBTQIA+ community, the Black and Minority Ethnic community and those who are disabled.
A key priority must be to deliver a policing structure and service, across all levels of the police service, including specialist units, that is as diverse as the community it serves. The lack of workforce diversity has been compounded by the withdrawal of the 50:50 recruitment model. This has negatively impacted on the recruitment and retention of PSNI officers specifically from the Catholic community. Stemming this decline across all front-line, management and specialist teams will be key to delivering a representative police service.
Building a policing service that has community safety at its core is essential to prevent attacks on the elderly, to pursue those involved in hate crime, pursue sex offenders and perpetrators of domestic violence, intimidation, or online abuse. The scourge of organised criminality and drugs also needs tackled. Those who import and deal in drugs must be prosecuted. All of this requires joined-up interventions and adequate funding.
PSNI disengagement from legacy and ensuring that the PSNI is representative of the community it serves are immediate and connected challenges for the Policing Board and the new PSNI chief constable. It is therefore essential that such decisions are now taken without further delay.
This will involve challenges and hard decisions for all key stakeholders. But working collaboratively and in partnership to identify the key gaps and deficiencies we can and must develop sustainable remedies.
Delivering the Patten vision of a modern policing service, that is representative of the community it serves, which commands maximum public confidence, and which can keep people safe, is what the public expect and deserve. For our part, Sinn Féin will work, with all stakeholders, with determination and resolve, to deliver that objective.
- Gerry Kelly is Sinn Féin policing and justice spokesperson.