The news that the Police Service of Born Iron has suspended four of its officers while it investigates racist and sectarian messages apparently sent (to each other) by text is to be welcomed. The speedy suspension and the press conference called at short notice earlier today suggests that PSNI views the matter seriously. It also suggests that they will confront racism and sectarianism within its ranks. The contrast with the Metropolitan Police in London which has shown itself somewhat slow to act on allegations is marked.
Although the PSNI has only bee in existence for a little more than ten years, it does actually have an advantage over longer established police services. It was instituted as a direct consequence of the Good Friday Agreement and effectively (although not in the eyes of republican dissidents) starts with a clean slate. Revolutionary change was more radical than evolutionary change in (say) the Metropolitan Police.
The PSNI have moved quickly and are obviously sincere in dealing with racism, sectarianism, homophobia whatever. We actually have a police service that genuinely has the support of the three communities (unionist, nationalist and “lets get alongerist”). And people like Judith Gillespie the Deputy Chief Constable was clearly annoyed at being put in the position of having to brief the media about such a seemingly negative story.
Of course the officers concerned are entitled to defend themselves vigourously against the allegations. And certainly it will interesting to see how the Police Federation handle their case. It has not always given me the impression that it is on board with the new PSNI “culture”.
Starting with a clean slate in 2001 was a massive boost to the PSNI. It was as much about ridding the police of the lazy “canteen culture” of casual racism, sectarianism, sexism and homophobia. Of course it would be naive to think that all the seven thousand police officers think “politically correct” thoughts but the real point is that expressing racism, sectarianism, sexism, homophobia will not be tolerated within the PSNI. We already have a situation where 30% of the officers are Catholic (including many from the Republic of Ireland and indeed places like Poland) which is obviously an improvement. The confidence builder for the nationalist community is that in any PSNI three person patrol, there will probably be one Catholic……or maybe two…….or three……or none. The key thing is that it doesnt actually matter in 2012. It is OUR police service.
It would also be naive to think that all of the problems of the Past have disappeared. The “old” RUC was either honoured by an award of a George Cross and honourably stood down to facilitate the new PSNI (this is the official version). Or it was stabbed in the back by the British Government to pander to (unreasonable) nationalist demands (unionist version) or fobbed up with the George Cross and consigned to the dustbin of history (nationalist version).
What is certain is that the “old” RUC officers …the “Trevors” were bought off with massive compensation payments. No doubt they sit around in the RUC Athletic Association’s facilities at Newforge remembering how it was in the “old days”…….and while some find it disturbing that the members of the Sports Association refuse to get with the programme and change its name. ..it is in reality irritating but no big deal. Long after the old “B” Specials were similarly disbanded in disgrace, they had their old comrades society to comfort them.
But as they say such people simply fade away.