I was talking to a young police officer a few nights ago. I had not spoken to her in about eighteen months, when she had just finished training. I have noticed a big change in her..she is not quite so enthusiastic and I suppose that is inevitable.
Around 1981 my cousin joined the old RUC. It was a tragic mistake on his part. He did it because he was unemployed and now he is retired. I think he was always a very unlikely policeman and frankly I think they only kept him on the books because he was a Catholic and they needed the numbers. He spent the “war” desk bound in a small trouble-free town. Not at ease with his fellow RUC officers………and……in isolation from his extended family.
On reflection we did not treat him well……an annual Christmas card sent “care of” his mother. In fairness he was under orders not to tell his extended family anything (we were obviously “pan nationalist” and I think we were all at pains not to ask any question which might compromise his security or our integrity as to how we felt about the RUC.
He lost out. So did we. He is my cousin’s son and just eight years older than me. He should have been best man at my wedding (I have no brothers) but basically he couldn’t be seen in West Belfast and frankly I was pretty glad. Once at a funeral in a small country church yard and elderly relative collapsed……and an ambulance was called. And suddenly a police car pulled up as they assumed that the ambulance was realted to my cousin’s appearance at the funeral. And he had to have a chat with them to explain the situation. His superiors had only authorised his going to the funeral on condition that a police car was in the vicinity. Actually that was pretty counter-productive because it now meant that the world and his wife knew that my cousin was in RUC.
Of course that was “then” and this is “now”. The problem with meeting a police officer…..or a doctor…..or an accountant……at a social gathering is that you cant ask them the obvious question. I want to know what it is like for a young woman in the PSNI in 2012…….and the young woman wants to relax on a Saturday night.
Political Policing……ah yes. It was the “old system” where the RUC were essentially the police “force” that sustained the old Stormont. And it is a “buzz phrase” that Sinn Féin like to use when PSNI are looking just a little too closely at the wrong things.
But in a wider sense…….I think there is as much “political policing” in 2012 as there was in 1962.
Looking back at summer disorders in East Belfast and North Belfast……..and autumn parading issues……has the number of arrests matched the violence? Have the “wrong” people been arrested? Has more latitude been given to organisers of violence and a lot less to the riot-fodder? Are Historical investigations taking place with one eye on the political consequence. Likewise are fraud investigations being hampered by the possible fall-out? To take the most recent example of the City Hall riots, the number of police injuries is eighteen but nobody appears to in custody or currently under arrest on any charges. As I understand it three people are on bail. Is this PROPER policing? Or POLITICAL policing?
I much admire the new PSNI. They have (bottom line) done no harm to me or mine. But they were born under the Creative Ambiguity ………created to replace the discredited RUC (packed off with the George Medal to History’s dustbin) and they are possibly the most obvious everyday feature of the Good Friday Agreement. So they ARE political ……..albeit a much more benign “political” body…..than the old RUC. The RUC was political FOR one community. The PSNI are political for two.
It is all very well for PSNI to distribute leaflets notifying residents that they have community police officers called “Bríd, Roisín, Kevin” etc and to note that “Saoirse” uses the Gaelic version of her family name (dont tell me it is not intentional)…..thats “political” and in 1962 a lot of RUC officers might have thought it a good political/career move to be in the same lodge (masonic, orange or both) than the Chief Inspector. In 2012 it is a good political/career move to sign up for Irish classes.
In 2012, a “Dia Duit” and a ticket to a GAA Final will go further than a funny handshake and a trip to Arthur Square.
So it seems to me that the PSNI are actually contributing rather too much to the status quo……..the Big Lie.
It will end badly.