POLICING in Northern Ireland is infinitely more difficult than policing in Dublin. Because of the peace process, the old RUC was abolished and along with it the idea that somebody on high can simply pass laws and recruit a body of men to implement them.
The realisation that not only had you to have community consent suddenly registered but the communities must have an input into the business of day-to-day policing hit home after 70 years of sterile conflict.
Thankfully, we’re not quite in the same boat but we are years behind the North in police accountability.
Last month saw two initiatives – one North and one South – which illustrated that gulf in accountability. Already with a powerful Police Ombudsman and a broadly representative Police Board (despite the fact that Sinn Fein won’t take their seats), it was announced that District Policing Partnerships will be formed across the North’s 26 local councils.
In these DPPs, the local police commanders will have to explain how they are going about their jobs. They won’t have executive power but their very existence is a powerful influence on the police.
Compare and contrast this to the meagre fare that was on offer to citizens in the South. The Garda Commissioner will now have control of his own budget. And he will now appear before an Oireachtas committee.
This is hardly revolutionary. And where’s the Police Board/Ombudsman we were promised in the election?
Instead, we have a proposed inspectorate about which few details are available.
Michael McDowell has made a big pitch about being a reforming Justice Minister.
He hasn’t made a great start.
As well as that…
Zero local accountability
LAST week an advertisement was carried in the Northern newspapers looking for people to serve on the District Policing Partnerships. Anyone can apply.
If you get on board you get to join local representatives in drawing up a policing plan for your area and reviewing its implementation. The ads envisage up to 20 hours a month for which you will be paid.
Down here we plan to do things somewhat differently. On the issue of local accountability the recent Performance and Accountability Review from the Garda Commissioner and the Minister of Justice contains just three lines. I’ll let you read it yourself.
“The Review Group recommends that the Commissioner formalise arrangements for liaison with local authorities, both to hear the views of local representatives and where appropriate to brief them on relevant policing developments in their areas.”
And that’s it. Nothing about policing plans or anybody from outside the political loop being involved. Nothing there about any local body to review policing. Nothing there on the need for the gardai to explain themselves if they don’t want to.
It’s a lot of nothings. And that’s just a recommendation.
The Guard in Chapelizod
THERE’S a garda stationed in Chapelizod every morning who directs the flow of traffic into town. There are two things that strike me as peculiar about this state of affairs.
One: how can the stationing of a highly paid garda be justified for the repetitive job of directing traffic? Of course, gardai must direct traffic sometimes but surely only in the case of an accident or emergency.
Two: why is this garda far better at directing the traffic than the traffic lights that are installed at this junction? Whenever he’s off (or even when another garda takes his place) the traffic is brutal.
The reason is that he watches the traffic and when he sees a sufficient build up in one direction he lets it go. In other words he acts like an intelligent set of traffic lights. So why can Dublin City Council come up with an equally intelligent set of traffic lights given all the technology at their disposal?
However, the garda in Chapelizod has another attribute. He seems to know half the people passing the junction and he gives them a quick wave as they pass by. You won’t get that kind of service from a traffic light.