Now that the Northern Ireland First and deputy First Ministers have broken cover to condemn the recent violence it’s worth noting that although ACC Alistair Finlay hadn’t heard from them before today, he had heard from a junior minister in their office. As Eamonn noted earlier
[Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly] “Let me say this about ACC Finlay. In his own way he should stay out of politics. If he wants to talk to the First and deputy First ministers all he has to do is to lift the phone. I lifted the phone to him and spoke with him yesterday. I argued with him no matter how bad the situation appeared that they should not use plastic bullets that people could get killed.” [added emphasis]
Two points to note about that. Firstly, that would be an entirely operational decision and, secondly, this conversation occured the day after three police officers were shot during riots in Belfast.
And, while the focus has mostly been on Belfast, in Londonderry last night a masked gunman fired shots at police in what has been described as [among] the “worst [rioting] in a decade”.
But, as Mark Devenport notes, ACC Finlay’s comments recall Hugh Orde’s parting shot at the NI Executive semi-detached polit-bureau, in September 2009, when he complained of “the absence of a “coherent and credible strategy” for tackling sectarian and racial hatred”.
As Mark adds
So where do we stand on the “Cohesion, Sharing and Integration” strategy? Progress on this score was a key demand from the Alliance party before David Ford accepted the Justice portfolio. The First and Deputy First Ministers agreed what they termed “the core” of the strategy back in February. But since then a draft has been shuttling between departments and Stormont committees and whilst this Stormont answer promised publication in June that timetable has now been exceeded. The latest guess is that the OFMDFM Committee and the Stormont Executive will approve the strategy for public consultation later this month.
When it comes out, though, will it contain anything which has the potential to narrow the divisions so evident this weekend? Cynics reckon that neither the DUP nor Sinn Fein have any great self interest in eroding the communal blocs on which they have built their political machines. Sinn Fein, in particular, rejects a lot of the “good relations” approach as a British sponsored exercise in trying to depict the problem here as being between “two tribes”. Instead republicans insist that “equality” is the key to improving the situation. When you look back at the Education department’s decision to slash its own community relations budget then the omens for a change of tack don’t seem too promising. So even if we get a CSI strategy published and adopted, will it be pursued with enough vigour to deliver change on the ground? Or will we still be talking about Groundhog Day somewhere in Northern Ireland in 20 years time?