Policing Northern Ireland: conflict, legitimacy and reform

Maurice Hayes reviews a book which looks like it may become a key reference for the changes in the policing service in Northern Ireland, Policing Northern Ireland: Legitimacy, Reform and Social Conflict . According to Hayes, Mulcahy draws out the fresh community based model on which policing reform has been based:

It has to be said that the commission got little help from criminologists on this side of the Atlantic, which is why Mulcahy’s contribution, if belated, is so refreshing. If economics is the dismal science, criminology is the hopeless one – “nothing works” was the constant refrain.

The key approach of Patten is that it is about policing – seeing the police as playing a part, even if they are not the principal players, in orchestrating the various agencies and the community itself to provide security. The central role is that of the community policeman, the central value that of human rights policing.

Mulcahy charts the degree of resistance in the Northern Ireland office, the dilution of the proposals by Mandelson and the trench warfare in the Commons to recover ground. The commission had indeed envisioned much of this foot-dragging by recommending the appointment of an Implementation Commissioner.

The commission rejected the cantonisation of policing to avoid the possibility that local political control by one or other dominant party could result in partisan and oppressive policing for the local minority. It provided for the answerability of police to elected politicians while insulating policing from day to day interference by the same politicians. It transformed the doctrine of operational independence of the Chief Constable to one of operational responsibility within a framework of agreed plans and monitoring.

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