Joint PSNI/Gardaí patrols in Crossmaglen will break ‘hoodoo’ of town’s policing: McAllister

April 27, 2010

By Brónagh Murphy

Fianna Fáil’s spokesperson in Crossmaglen, Martin McAllister, played a central role in Monday’s visit of Chief Constable, Matt Baggott, to Crossmaglen.

McAllister, who along with party colleagues held a private meeting with Mr Baggott, described the visit as symbolic and said now is time to deliver a proper police service in Crossmaglen and move away from the ‘folk memory’ of policing in the past.

He claims the greatest barrier to effective community policing in Crossmaglen is not the community’s discountenance of a police service but their deep mistrust of the ‘old colonial policing system’ and the damage it caused.

He says the PSNI has not gone far enough to distance itself from the past and, until it does, the community will have difficulty trusting and having confidence in the police.

“The issue of policing in general, but specifically in the south Armagh area, is a very terse issue and there are a number of different factions contributing to the complexity of the problem,” he said.

“One is the perception of policing as it was in the past here.  We had a despotic state and there was a direct link between policing and justice.  It was a one-party state with a police force exclusively for its own use.”

McAllister says changes to the policing system of the past, recommended by the Patten report, were made because the system was wrong.  Now the force must face up to the mistakes of the past, where collusion was rife, and distance itself from it – regardless of the fact that many former RUC members are now serving PSNI officers.

“It was the system that was at fault, not necessarily the personnel,” he said.

“Now there are perfectly good mechanisms for redress available through the district policing partnerships and through human rights legislation so that what happened in the past can never happen again.”

However, McAllister says he carries grave concerns regarding the continued involvement of MI5 and its alleged attempted recruitment of informers in south Armagh.  He says this, coupled with the fact that MI5 is an unaccountable body, must be addressed before real progress can be made.

Joint patrols

“The mechanisms needed to bring policing in Crossmaglen forward already exist in the Patten report, as already there are a number of Garda officers serving in the PSNI.  However, I believe this approach is not being utilised to its best advantage,” McAllister continued.

It was this subject and his vision for future joint policing in south Armagh that was the crux of his meeting with the Chief Constable.

McAllister pointed out the glaring difference in policing south of the border where the front door of any Garda station is left open for the public to freely enter and conduct their business, while here in the north it can take numerous phone calls and a lengthy wait for police officers to respond.

He says a simple solution to this would be for the PSNI to allow the Gardaí to respond to specific situations, particularly in the rural border areas of south Armagh.

“There has already been a precedent set for this scenario,” McAllister says.

“After the murder of Paul Quinn, the Gardaí operated here freely, going to each house they needed to visit in the area in the course of their investigation.  So there is a protocol existing to make this happen.

“If we had a situation where Gardaí from Castleblayney or Carrickmacross could walk the streets of Crossmaglen then it solve the problem of logistics in transferring policemen from places such as Limerick to work in a building in Antrim where they are going to have no effect.”

“Who could object if it was the very thing that broke the hoodoo of police walking the streets of Crossmaglen?” he asks.

“It’s here in south Armagh we need to break the ice on this.  This is where the big problem is.  Crossmaglen is the only police station in the north from which the police do not operate freely, driving in and out or walking the town.  The police have never been engaged in community policing here simply because it’s not safe for them to do so.”

On the subject of the dissident republican campaign, he added: “There are those who still think that the use of the gun is the way forward to further their own aspirations.  I shared those same aspirations, but not their means of achieving them.  All of us now have the benefit of hindsight.  What we have to do is take stock of where we are now and where we’ve been and look at the possibilities we have of doing things peacefully.

“As far as I’m concerned the only way forward is constitutional republicanism through the use of democracy and making people aware of political changes that need to be brought about through democratic means.”

McAllister has already submitted his proposals in writing to the Garda Commissioner and discussed the subject at length with Mr Baggott during Monday’s visit.

And with a ‘seamless’ approach to policing already promised by the chief of police in both jurisdictions, McAllister’s pipe dream of Gardaí patrolling Crossmaglen may well become a reality.