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Orde On the Spot

By Niall O' Dowd

Hugh Orde, chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, (PSNI), is in New York this week and is bound to face serious questions from Irish Americans about the police force he heads.

Orde came to his job with a stellar reputation, but given the recent antics by his force he may be about to prove that even the greatest cop in the world cannot reform the irreformable.

Policing in Northern Ireland has always been a key issue. The legacy of the old RUC, the 93% Protestant force, still lives in the minds of many Nationalists who grew to hate it.

The PSNI was supposed to be the new broom, and Orde was supposed to be the man wielding it. Even mindful of the extraordinary complexity of the task, it is still very hard to understand what he is attempting to accomplish at present.

In the past two weeks we have had adequate reminders that while the old RUC is dead and gone, there are still elements of it alive and well in the PSNI.

Worse, there are now serious questions about Ordeís stewardship. Some critics believe he is kept in the dark by his own police force about what they are up to, others say he is a part of the obfuscation and obstruction process that has been going on.

It is more likely the first. No one can believe that a top cop with his reputation would willingly allow the tactics to be used that some of his own officers are currently employing.

In the first controversial case, the government announced that there would be no prosecutions of individuals arrested in the Stormontgate affair which took place three years ago. This involved an alleged Sinn Fein spy ring deep within Stormont which was undermining the work of the newly elected power-sharing Executive.

The allegation led to the downfall of that Executive, the very linchpin of the peace process. David Trimble, then the Northís first minister, used the opportunity to walk out of government, and Sinn Fein took the blame for the collapse of the institutions. Three years later we are trying to get back to that power sharing.

PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde

Now suddenly, all the charges against those alleged Sinn Fein spies have been dropped. It was a bombshell development, especially given the utter certainty of police statements at the time that they had the goods on the men.

Given that the arrests led to the downfall of the elected government, you would think that huge questions would be asked by Orde and others about the quality of the police work that led to the arrests. Not at all. The PSNI issued a statement saying that while the men were entitled to the presumption of innocence, they were basically still convinced they had a case.

Wonderful isnít it? Damned if they did, damned if they didnít.

The reality is that there was never any evidence against the men, and elements within the PSNI opposed to the peace process took the opportunity to stick a fork in it. They almost succeeded in bringing down the entire process, and in the three years since an enormous amount of effort has been made to get us back to that position we were in before the bogus arrests.

Another strange occurrence recently was the release without charge of Francie Brolly, a Sinn Fein representative who was recently arrested out of the blue for an alleged murder committed in 1972.

Brolly, a leading advocate within his party of the peace process, was subject to screaming headlines and police innuendo that they had their man. Again he was released.

There have also been a number of other high profile stories involving who was responsible for last yearís Northern Bank raid blamed on the IRA.

Again, amid garish headlines, a bank employee (Catholic, of course) was arrested and the rumours had it that he was part of an inside gang. Soon after he was released.

Can we detect a pattern here? Clearly there are some old RUC elements still determined to stick it to the Nationalist community at every turn, and to hell with any damage they are doing to the new police force as a result.

Sinn Fein must be thanking their lucky stars in recent weeks that they have not signed on to accepting the PSNI. Orde may not be fully aware of how much damage these rogue elements are doing to him at present. Irish Americans should set him straight.


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