Matt v Newt on the PSNI’s Ballyclare capitulation to loyalists

In an unusual step (in his own words), the PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott decided to pen a letter to the Irish News published this morning in reply to a column written by Newt Emerson in the paper yesterday.

Emerson’s article (subs required) was entitled ‘PSNI pawns in loyalist grant application scheme’ and in the piece, Emerson lambasted the PSNI for capitulating to the marauding loyalists in Ballyclare.

In the piece, Emerson noted how six police officers were injured in the loyalist violence, including one after being attacked with a concrete block, noting how this offence in Ardoyne last year led to a charge of attempted murder against a Spanish citizen recently. Furthermore, Emerson recounts how the assembled loyalists also drove a hijacked bus into a land rover, injuring five officers.

But it is Emerson’s assertion of political interference which seems to have provoked Baggott into responding with such haste:

 “Policing this political must be ordered from the top which no longer seems to mean Chief Constable Matt Baggott….the official police line has OFMDFM written all over it.”

What is clear is that the PSNI are entitled to remove flags erected with the intention of intimidating the minority catholic population of the overwhelmingly unionist town, even within the terms of the ‘protocal agreement’ in place in the area. The loyalist response was as violent and intense as anything witnessed in other riots over the summer period. Subsequently, the PSNI apologised for their operation and did not object to the re-erection of the offending flags outside of the Catholic Church.

Furthermore, there has been a distinct absence of PSNI activity in relation to arresting the loyalists responsible for the rioting in Ballyclare, suggesting that the chastened PSNI certainly appear considerably less interested in arresting loyalists involved in these riots than those implicated in rioting in other parts of the north.

The Chief Constable’s letter of reply raises as many questions as it answers (again, subs required.) In stating that the decision to apologise “was taken following the significant feedback from local groups on the consultation process,” Baggott seems to be suggesting that the PSNI should be apologising far more regularly for its actions than is presently the case. For example, the policing tactics in Ardoyne were criticised by Fr Gary Donegan as well as representatives of both the SDLP and Sinn Fein, yet there has yet to be an apology for those actions. If the criteria for seeking a PSNI statement of remorse is merely the collation of significant feedback from local groups, then that criteria would appear to have been more than met. Yet a reciprocal apology to nationalists would serve only to further dent both the credibility of the PSNI and provoke a crisis of leadership, indicating an inability to make soundly based tactical decisions which could be stood over at a later stage.

Secondly, Baggott’s claim that the willingness to apologise is “a sign of our willingness to listen and excellent local leadership, when we are humble enough to acknowledge the concerns of others” is rather disconcerting when one recalls that the incident was a simple matter of the PSNI seeking to act in defence of a minority community who others were attempting to intimidate. Quite who the PSNI decided to listen to is a question that deserves further exploration, not least since the appearance of DUP MP Willie McCrea to announce the PSNI apology whilst standing beside prominent loyalist spokesperson, Ken Wilkinson, suggested that all strands of unionist-loyalist political opinion were united in pillorying the PSNI whilst ignoring or downplaying both the actions of the rioters and the sectarian motivation behind the initial move which precipitated the PSNI’s actions.

Thirdly, Baggott refutes the claims of political interference in robust tones, stating that he would not tolerate such an intervention and directly rejecting the specific charge of OFMDFM intervention:

“I would not tolerate any political interference in operational policing nor any compromise of the impartiality or operational independence of the PSNI. OFMDFM have had no part in this nor any previous operational decisions.”

But none of what Matt Baggott said actually addressed the core difficulty emerging from the PSNI’s behaviour in Ballyclare.

The message sent out by the PSNI was that it cannot be trusted to face down loyalists in the area, and allowing itself to be publicly humiliated by apologising and turning a blind eye when the flags were re-erected was a monumental error for a police service supposedly interested in promoting a vision of non-sectarian policing into the future.

Again, Newt Emerson:

“Note how the DUP seized the airwaves, with Willie McCrea standing beside PUP spokesman Ken Wilkinson and boasting about the police apology. Imagine how that feels if you have even the slightest dissident sympathy.”

Matt Baggott is going to have to do much better to prove that what Emerson correctly labelled the “spineless stance” of the PSNI  is not repeated.  


  • carnmoney.guy

    When Matt Baggot writes his memoirs, that apology by ACC Taggart Finlay will get its own chapter. The chief constable having to reply to a satirical columnist, he must have been furious ( or he should have been ) because he cant trust his own senior team, and the points raised are too close to the bone.
    What now for the GAA attitude to our new police service??

  • ranger1640

    Carnmoney_guy, why did you mention the gaa, the next thing we’ll get is whataboutery about gaa flegs all over the place!!!

  • Drumlins Rock

    Imagine your a police commander, after a night of rioting on your patch, and spreading to other areas, you are given an ultimatum the next day, apologize for some petty misunderstanding or face several night of widespread rioting across the country from one side, at the same time waiting for the riots to break out on the other side a few night later.

    Of course it is completely morally wrong to give in to such threats, but faced with that scenario I would be searching for the sack cloth and ashes, no matter which side it was coming from. Saying all that, those who rioted should be pursued with the full force of the law, it should not present a precedent and the issue of flags dealt with in that area.

  • tacapall

    Turning a blind eye while those same people who attempted to murder his officers re-erected the same flags.

    Matt Baggott could not have made the decision to apoligise without approval from the OFMDFM otherwise Sinn Fein would be calling for his removal and rightly so. No other Chief Constable in Britain could justify actions like this and survive keeping his position.

  • Rapunsell

    What’s a fleg? Travel the length and breadth of the country for work. Rarely see a GAA flag outside the championship period and even then few and far between. Poor attempt to deflect attention from the key issue. Very disappointed in the action of the police on this one. Would consider myself a supporter of the new dispensation bit not uncritical.

    I’ve posted before about PSNI reluctance and inaction to deal with all matter of flags including illegal paramilitary flags where i live. The Ballyclare incident confirms for me that its now official policy to backdown to thuggery and threats and once you’ve given in once on the issue- well PSNI now have disabled themselves from ever being in a position to deal with flags ever again in NI. Maybe that was the intention of the volte face?

  • ranger1640

    Its a “flag” to you and I Rapunsell. However in some parts its a “fleg”.

    There are several of the offending “Armagh GAA flegs”, on the Shankill road, and no one has complained as far as I know. They even went up before the 12th.

  • DC

    I long for the day when we have a mature enough political class that can take ownership of the police so that there are no more Matt Baggotts, and instead chief constables with a background and life in northern ireland.

    Sinn Fein need to hit the ground running on policing along with the DUP and the other parties and take some responsibility for the type of policing that is in place at the moment, rather than poke at Matt Baggott.

    It is true that what works in one area will not work in another – maybe as Drumlins Rock mentions – that this may have been the best approach for that particular area at the time.

    Or I suppose, alternatively, the police could have taken the flags down and came under attack but made some arrests and snatched a few people, so that loyalist names would become known to police etc – to see just who is doing what exactly. Then clamp down on such people further on down the line etc.

    But shouldn’t politicians be finding this out and having a debate about police tactics and reporting back to the public?

    You know, Chris, there are people who want more assertive policing but such people have lost the argument recently and since the PSNI’s inception it seems to be somewhat emasculated – only containing violence and minimising it, than intervening directly and disrupting it.

    How long can the PSNI continue to do ‘contained violence’ – where groups are hemmed in and allowed to wreck the place? I understood it at the time of the peace process and hands off policing was the thing in order to get SF and nationalists bought into the police. But now all the main parties have bought in how long can contained violence remain acceptable, not least in terms of costs fixing the damage from rioting but also what if contained violence leads to someone being fatally injured (either rioter / bystander or even police officer)?

    I’d rather see the PSNI broken up and down into smaller police forces where appropriate, so that control is more local and tactics adopted that suit local demands and tastes, which will vary area to area, town to town etc.

    Because some areas would prefer more hands on police than others, but at the moment the regional approach is being applied and it is still an approach stuck in time – back to the ‘careful does it’ peace processing era.

    I’ve a hunch some citizens would like to move beyond this era but aren’t allowed due to said regional restrictions.

  • Mark McGregor

    Seems after ‘someone’ contacts Mick you aren’t allowed to make negative comment on the RUC – what a surprise.

    Though, what do you expect from a pig-herdsman?

  • AntrimObserver

    The dissidents have received their biggest boost in years from the way the police have handled the rioting recently.

    In both their actions on the ground and their public comments afterwards the police have shown a clear bias towards loyalist rioters.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Its funny how it is always the polices fault, give them a break they are literally stuck in the middle, taking the abuse and attacks from both sides, they can’t win generally. Remember making that apology was deeply humiliating for them, but it was the right thing this time to prevent worse happening. As for all the conspiracy theories, the gossiping disorganised self interest of most people makes these virtually impossible.

    ps. how long is Mark in the Sin Bin for?

  • Comrade Stalin

    To me the rights or wrongs of removing the flags is not the real issue, we can argue about those back and forth all day. The PSNI’s apology is by far the greater issue and it does not sit well with the complete absence of arrests.

    The current political process, which excepting the past few weeks seems to be working well, has as a cornerstone the idea that politicians are required to support the authority of the police and the courts. William McCrea and the DUP violated that requirement by going on the offensive against the police over what was a straightforward police response to a public order problem. We are constantly being told that unionists do not vote for paramilitaries – so why was it necessary for the DUP to align themselves with paramilitary figures in public ?

    I would like to know whose idea it was that a PSNI apology be given without a full formal investigation into the matter being completed, and without the Police Ombudsman being involved. The apology came quickly enough that there is no way that a proper investigation into the background will have been done – it is therefore clear that the apology was a result of political pressure. It makes the PSNI look like a bunch of yellow bastards who simply fold when a few politicians phone up to give them abuse for standing up to loyalists. It does not help matters at all that apparently no arrests concerning the serious rioting were made, despite the fact that a number of figures have come forward to justify the riots in public. This outwardly appears to underscore the notion that the PSNI are afraid to confront loyalist paramilitarism (despite the reality that the reason why loyalists are so pissed off at the moment is because they are being chased by the HET and SOCA).

    The rule of law must be paramount if the political process here is to work properly, and it sadly has been dealt a serious blow by all of this. It is now very difficult to counter the argument that the PSNI is an organization which allows itself to be influenced by political interference. I hope that the Justice Minister commissions an urgent investigation into this and that changes are made so that the PSNI properly consider the impact on their own integrity that can be caused by rash and rushed judgements.

  • Comrade Stalin


    Sinn Fein need to hit the ground running on policing along with the DUP and the other parties and take some responsibility for the type of policing that is in place at the moment, rather than poke at Matt Baggott.

    We have that already, it’s called the Police Board. The Police Board issue Baggot with his orders. Our political parties already have the means to influence how riots are policed.

  • Baggott has demonstrated his inability to do the job mentioned on the tin. Obviously a weak character who is replying to Emerson in a rattled tone, showing he knows he’s been found out. We’ll see what he does about Portadown last night, if anything. It is in Portadown thuggery in the late 18th century that the source of the Orange Order lies, and not the battle fought a hundred years earlier. That was a flag of convenience and nothing else.

  • Munsterview

    Mark : ” Seems after ‘someone’ contacts Mick you aren’t allowed to make negative comment on the RUC – what a surprise.”

    I have regularly referred here to the fact that ‘someone’ and indeed far more than just ‘someone’ singular monitor Slugger on a regular basis. Northern Ireland is still regarded by the spooks as unfinished business and public forums such as Slugger are seen as playing a part in the COIN ‘hearts and minds’ games.

    Last year I had an extensive exchange and exposed what I considered to be an intel plant operating here and once exposed and his usefulness terminated, this persona exited Slugger.

    This after accusations of bullying, sectarianism, anti-semitism etc against me, backed up may I add by a small greek chorus here, some of whom were probably old ex-securicats ( nothing ‘ex’ about the mindset of these people, still the very same as the height of the Troubles ) unable to accept that a new order was in place and things had moved on.

    Part of this COIN activity actually involves hacking and live monitoring. We are now light years away from the clumsy, chunky transmission device that was found in the Republican ‘safe car’ used to transport Republican leaders during the lead up to the Peace Process. Areas and buildings are now monitored by image transmitting units no bigger than a cigarette package.

    Likewise with ‘live monitoring’ computers of interest on the net are hacked, certain words activate ‘alerts’ and interference begins. For instance I have had a stable, trouble free internet connection operating for over a hundred hours since I last reconnected, moments after typing COIN I have had my broadband ‘connection terminated by remote site’

    Before the usual suspects pipe up with the usual plethora of explanations it is the old story ‘ To those who know, no explanations are necessary, to those who do not, no explanation will suffice’

    Back to the ‘someone’ I have had quite a few em exchanges with Mick on this and related matters. As a former paralegal I know all too well the pitfalls and the tricky waters Mick must navigate with slugger. All the power, weight and authority is on the side of the ‘someone’ and their representatives.

    The spooks and their masters do not like information posted exposing their COIN activities, closing down a site is too blatant and revealing of the hidden hands, it is far easier to have an ‘off the record’ word with a site owner informing them that as editors, by allowing certain comments, are putting the lives of ‘X’ ‘Y’ ‘Z’ in danger and that they will be held responsible for the consequences arising.

    And all of this before dealing with the additional minefield of legal defamation and press libel !

    Some months back I was red carded and banned, ironically over a ‘piss take’ against another poster based on his posted remarks. However from Mick’s perspective my claim that by his own admission, this poster from what he had just written, could have been a certain Brit spy from the start of the troubles !

    A piss take from my perspective but had some nut case taken it serious and identified the poster concerned….. and acted on that information, then there could have been problems indeed.

    This is an insight into some of the factors Mick have to deal with on a regular basis. I have in the past also accused him of a ‘lamh ladir’ approach to some arguments but after one of my infrequent visits to ‘’ this morning on the Sinn Fein / Orange parades issues, and seen what pass for comment and debate there, all is forgiven !

  • redstar2011

    The more things change the more they stay the same. I thought SF told us this new police force would be different-pathetic

    Marty tells us he leads by example and Republicans should now support and work for the British security forces-what I would like to know is exactly how long has he been doing so

  • Comrade Stalin


    These long, rambling Walter Mitty stories about how you’re some kind of top guy that people regularly consult, and this idea that you’re being chased around the internet by spooks and securocrats do this place a disservice. You are a classic American fruitcake.

  • andnowwhat

    AntrimObserver (profile) 16 July 2011 at 12:46 am
    The dissidents have received their biggest boost in years from the way the police have handled the rioting recently.

    In both their actions on the ground and their public comments afterwards the police have shown a clear bias towards loyalist rioters.

    Could not agree with this more.

    SF have completely let their constituants down here. Oddly enough, Conall Mc Devitt has been more vociferous on recent events.

    I’d love to see a break down of loyalist Vs Republican arrests covering this and last year’s rioting.

  • changeisneeded

    RUC – PSNI
    different name same aim

    anyone prosecuted for murdering Kevin McDaid in coleraine yet..

    didnt think so .. coleraine ruc running scared from the UDA..

  • changeisneeded
  • andnowwhat

    “The suggestion that there were police officers there who didn’t intervene when they could have done earlier is an allegation that we will fully explore. We don’t have any understanding that that is the case, but if anyone has information about that we would want to know about it. The matter has been referred by the Police Service to the Police Ombudsman,” he said.

    From above link.

    What can you say

  • PeterBrown

    There are a number of people charged remanded bailed and awaiting trial – a bit like Keano time to check the facts before spouting off changeisneeded….

    And a quick warning as an NI man appears to be about to win the British Open so under no circumstances should you turn on BBC1 for the next 1 – 1 1/2 hours as there will hopefully be numerous references to the correct designation of “da six counties / failed northern statelet” for the foreseeable future and that flag that got Rory into so much trouble might also burn itself into your retinas again – you have been warned!

  • changeisneeded

    “There are a number of people charged remanded bailed and awaiting trial – a bit like Keano time to check the facts before spouting off changeisneeded….”

    yeah.. in other words the cops have paid off their five pound touts

  • michael-mcivor

    Going by Ken Reid and a few others on twitter- it looks like Matt Baggot will be one of the favourite’s to take over sir paul stephenson’s job over the met-

  • changeisneeded

    yes , the queen of england seems quite happy to bestow honours on men responsible for sectarian murders.

    “On 22 January 2007 a report by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, Nuala O’Loan, made findings of collusion between members of the proscribed paramilitary organization, the Ulster Volunteer Force, and officers under the command of Flanagan”

    link not necessary, the situation is quite apparent

  • andnowwhat

    Hugh Orde’s name has come up a fare bit in relation to the met job

  • streetlegal

    In the end it will come down to whether the PSNI are prepared to go toe to toe with the UDA and the UVF in Belfast and South Antrim. It would appear that the PSNI command doesn’t have the stomach for this particular fight. But when things get seriously out of hand on the streets someone has to step in and frankly – if all else fails – break a few heads. That task will most likely fall to the British Army.