The BBC have been reporting that Al Hutichson, formerly the Police Oversight Commissioner, is to be appointed as the next Police Ombudsman – replacing Nuala O’Loan when she steps down later this year. Probably a good time to remind everyone of Al Hutichson’s recent comments in his final report as Oversight Commissioner... which were followed by comments from Kit Chivers, the criminal justice inspector for Northern Ireland.. and by Senator Maurice Hayes.. before we had Friday’s announcement of the consultation group. Adds “it is understood” that he is to be appointed Now confirmed – “after a rigorous selection process which adhered to public appointment guidelines.”In his final report, Al Huchison said
The dilemma is this: Is there going to be a continual debilitating drip-feed of speculation, inquires and investigations into past police practice, or is the majority of the Northern Ireland society willing to move on, in some yet-to-be-defined manner, and regard the Police Service of Northern Ireland as a new organisation that has itself moved on and demonstrated that it has learned from the past? It is a serious question and deserves serious reflection.
I have not previously publicly discussed this issue, simply because it is so emotive and almost defies rational discussion. Who can argue against a search for truth and justice after losing loved ones because of alleged security forces collusion? Who can argue against a search for truth and justice for the thousands of victims and their families, from many communities? As noted recently by the Police Service Superintendents Association, there should not be a hierarchy of victims. This includes the 302 police officers who lost their lives, and their surviving families. How can they be excluded from a search for truth and justice?
I am raising the issue of ‘policing the past’ from the singular perspective of policing the future of Northern Ireland. I do believe that the Northern Ireland society somehow has to find the proper architecture to deal with the past, and learn from it. The past is a place no longer inhabited, except with our imperfect memories. The future, for our children and grandchildren, should be the destination of choice. I do not have a magical solution or elixir, I wish I did. I do know that organisations such as the Historical Enquires Team and the Ombudsman’s office are blunt instruments too narrowly focused to use in a search for truth and justice for societal challenges. While they are simply doing what is required by mandate and law, they raise expectations that cannot be met, and distract from the task of finding a societal resolution to the past.