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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.