“His willingness to attend a Sinn Féin ard fheis sometime next year will not resolve this…”

In the Belfast Telegraph Liam Clarke notes Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly’s ‘lukewarm’ response to Chief Constable Matt Baggott’s generous offer to speak at the next SF ard fheis.  From the Belfast Telegraph article

Gerry Kelly, the party’s policing spokesman, said: “While it is an interesting suggestion, and presumably the party will give it due consideration, the ard fheis is not until next May, so it’s far too early to suggest who will be invited.”


Mr Kelly amplified his criticism of the Chief Constable and questioned his stated commitment to community policing.

He said: “Matt Baggott’s credibility rating among the nationalist community is fairly low at the minute. His willingness to attend a Sinn Fein ard fheis sometime next year will not resolve that, nor should it be allowed to distract from significant issues which he has yet to adequately address.”

He went on to claim that Mr Baggott’s “dismissal of criticism by the Police Ombudsman’s Office into the RUC investigation of the McGurk’s atrocity, and also the failure of his organisation to properly investigate the Loughinisland massacre, are just two of many areas of concern”.

And he probably wouldn’t be as fulsome in his praise as certain other supernaturalists…

Still, it’s an improvement on the response his predecessor got.  Even if that 2006 refusal was soon followed by a leadership only meeting. [To deliver preconditions! – Ed]  Indeed.  And how did that all work out?  From the Belfast Telegraph article

Mr Kelly also questioned PSNI riot control tactics, including what he described as “the continued and unacceptable use of lethal plastic bullets”.

“How he (Mr Baggott) can reconcile this with his apparent commitment to community policing is beyond me,” he stated.

[It’s only been 10 years! – Ed]  And it’s now 2011…

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  • northbelfastview

    Is “ard fheis” Irish for conference?

  • Cynic2

    I think that Baggot attending the Ard Fheis is timely and useful.

    He could, for example, use the opportunity and his role as NI’s top police officer to challenge SF on some critical issues for policing and a our shared future. I am thinking of things like:

    * who murdered Jean McConville and who ordered it?
    * who ordered and carried out the LA Mon Bombing and the Poppy Day Massacre?
    * what about the 2000 odd other unsolved killings attributed to the movement?
    * where is all the money still outstanding from the Northern Bank robbery?

    He could ask SF delegates (or at least all those who aren’t in the toilets at the time) to provide evidence to help bring the killers of Robert McCartney to justice. Or, more topically, how the Dissers seem to be getting their hands on all that Libyan Semtex when it was supposed to be handed over to DeChastellaine? And where is the rest of it?

    He could even challenge them on why we have no coherent plan for shared futures or dealing with the past other than standing on ladders and peeing over the garden fence that divides our houses.

    These are the questions that some of us might like him to ask. But we know he wont. He will waffle about community policing and partnership and faith and forgiveness and moving forward and all the well honed platitudes and buzz words. Because that is his job. Not to police the difficult stuff and, above all, not to rock the boat too much.

    As for Gerry Kelly’s posturings, SF’s commitment to fair and inclusive policing is amply demonstrated by the pedigrees of its Board Members and their general contribution to debates. It’s interesting too that he chides the Police for their riot control tactics while not mentioning his own organisation’s role in ‘ riot control’ which has in the past been somewhat different.

  • lamhdearg

    Why throw in the odd Gaelic ref, asked Lamhdearg. Cynic2, i am not sure Baggot is yer man for “well honed platitudes”, and this i believe is why Gerry is, no to sure ,about asking him along.

  • summerhill

    ynic 2, Matt Baggott might even bring some answers if he is invited to the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis. Answers to:
    1: Who ordered the killing of Pat Finucane?
    2: Who within the RUC et al ordered and implemented the acknowledged policy of collusion that lead to the killing of scores of people?
    3: Who within the RUC ( PSNI) ordered and carried out the policy of ill-treatment within Castlereagh and the other ‘Holding Centres’?
    4: Who within the RUC ( PSNI) ordered and carried out the policy of ‘shoot to kill’ in North Armagh in the early 1980s?
    5: Who burned the offices used by the Stevens team investigating the activities of the RUC / PSNI?

    Sure there are loads more questions but Matt Baggott will enhance his credibility if he even answers these questions at any time in any place.

  • Cynic2

    “the acknowledged policy of collusion ”

    Including one suspects collusion with many of those who might be in the hall listening to him. ………….

  • While Baggott indicated in December last year (at the 2010 UUP conference) that he wouldn’t reject an invitation to the SF ard fheis (having toured the DUP and UUP conferences that season), the chances of him travelling all the way down to the next ard fheis in Kilkenny for half an hour must be small.

  • HeinzGuderian

    Is ‘ard feiss’ irish for polit bureau ?

  • summerhill

    Maybe, maybe not – we will all be the wiser when he gives us all the answers.

  • Pete Baker


    You seem to have missed the point highlighted at the top of the linked UTV report

    PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott has said he would attend next year’s Sinn Féin Ard Fheis if invited.

    That Sinn Féin are unlikely to invite him is a different matter. And the subject of the original post.

  • Cynic2

    Aw come on Summerhill. Its common enough for senior executives to attend rallies for their employees as a morale booster and thanks for a job well done

  • summerhill


    ‘Because that is his job. Not to police the difficult stuff and, above all, not to rock the boat too much’
    Your post 5.20pm’

    Time for another Senior Executive then.


  • harry_w

    The Chief Constable said: “I am really trying to find ways to take personal policing into the heart of areas where people have doubt. Attending the Sinn Féin ard fheis is one way we could do that.”


    Attempting to place the hosts of an event on the spot by publicly seeking an invitation (in this case via the media) is not a ‘generous offer, it’s a stunt. It’s seeking either to force an invitation from a reluctant host, or to exploit in public a host’s refusal to issue an invitation. The subtext is clear enough in the editorial in the same paper that day:

    “It is a brave move and the response of Sinn Féin to it will be interesting. Will the party be prepared to put a senior PSNI officer on its rally platform?”


    Liam Clarke’s article monitors that reaction (‘lukewarm’), and ending in the passive voice most appropriate to an apparatchik, he delivers delivering the view he’s set out to propagate:

    “In 2007 when Sir Hugh Orde, the previous Chief Constable, suggested that he might attend the ard fheis the offer was rejected out of hand. Mr Kelly’s comments will be seen, by comparison, as part of a process of engagement on the issue.

    The aim, like the last time a PSNI chief pulled the same PR stunt, seems to be to associate Sinn Féin’s leadership on a platform with the senior command of the PSNI, beyond taking up roles on policing boards as elected representatives. The ‘issue’ for PSNI chiefs seems to be getting alongside the Sinn Féin leadership on their party platform, not participation on boards when Orde did this or broader acceptance of the PSNI among republicans now that Baggott is trying it.



    If this is Baggot’s ”personal policing” it’s looks more like PR posturing rather than a ‘brave’ move; something tailored for media coverage in the Belfast Telegraph, UTV and BBC rather than achieving the ostensible aim. He couched the same offer in slightly less presumptuous tones for BBC Newsline today, which termed the response as ‘cool’, under the heading of ‘credibility’. 😀


    If Baggott wants to ”take personal policing into the heart of areas where people have doubt” (cf. the Prayer of St Francis of Assisi), perhaps he personally should have dealt better with the legacy of the RUC’s role in killings directed and executed by their agents throughout loyalist paramilitary groups. His PR message is that issues in these areas arise from ”30 or 40 years without sufficient policing, without sufficient security” where he thinks “policing is still new”. Actually, it has a criminal record of 30 or 40 years of lethal violence and collusion in loyalist death squads, which made RUC policing a threat to the security of people in those areas.


    It seems quite abnormal for any senior policeman to address the conference of a political party from the platform, but seeking an invitation to do so via the media now seems to be a routine for PSNI chiefs in relation to Sinn Féin. It would tend to undermine the political neutrality expected of a civic police force, and risk blurring the distinction between a political party and a civic body. The ‘issue’ successive PSNI chiefs and the Belfast media seem to have is to associate a party leadership with a police chief by invitation to appear on their political platform.

    Baggott appears to want a platform within an ard fheis to deliver his PR message, with more of an eye on the media coverage rather than actually engaging with sceptical republicans and nationalists. It offers Sinn Féin little but a rather dubious form of association with a PSNI chief. Baggott would understand the propaganda opportunity this would offer dissident republican groups, and others, opposed to Sinn Féin. So it appears quite a disingenuous offer on his part, and those talking it up as ‘brave’ or ‘generous’.

    As an alternative, Sinn Féin might suggest he engage more directly in a two-way process of public dialogue with those most directly concerned with policing issues (past and present), in the areas to which he says he wants to reach out.

  • BluesJazz

    Brigadier Gordon Kerr would also be an interesting invitee, as he is already familiar with many of the platform, indeed as their paymaster, he shouldn’t really need to be invited.

  • Cynic2

    “It seems quite abnormal for any senior policeman to address the conference of a political party from the platform”

    I agree.

  • Cynic2

    “he shouldn’t really need to be invited”

    He may well be a member

  • Abu Mikhail74

    You forgot to mention Shergar, lads.

  • carsonite

    This makes me laugh, Gerry Kelly is questioning someones credibility!

  • Scáth Shéamais

    the chances of him travelling all the way down to the next ard fheis in Kilkenny for half an hour must be small.

    He could always get a helicopter ride down with Gerry.

  • Cynic2

    “You forgot to mention Shergar, lads”


    It would seem trite to do so when there are over 2000 murdered people to consider first – but thanks for reminding us of that crime and inhumanity too

  • Pete Baker




    “It’s seeking either to force an invitation from a reluctant host, or to exploit in public a host’s refusal to issue an invitation.”

    Or it’s an honest answer in response to the question ” Would you attend the Sinn Féin ard fheis if invited?”

    After all, as Alan pointed out, he has attended other party conferences.

    Nothing wrong in doing so, btw, depending on what is actually said from the platform at the time.

    The point here, though, is about the reluctance to issue an invite.

    With Sinn Féin, their past ‘preconditions’ on endorsing the police have proved to be nothing of the sort. So some sensitivity about a PSNI Chief Constable addressing party members is, perhaps, understandable.

    And, given Gerry Kelly’s 2006 interview on Hearts and Minds, there are probably other reasons why the party leadership doesn’t want to open that particular can of worms.

    Noel Thompson: Will you, if and when you come on board policing, will you say we don’t want to investigate anything that has been before…
    Gerry Kelly: Yes. Yes.
    Noel Thompson: …this is a new beginning?
    Gerry Kelly: I have said it before a new beginning is a new beginning.

    But then, the SDLP, as far as I’m aware, haven’t invited him to speak either.

    After all. Every party now supports the police and wants to encourage community support for them.

    In the context of them being held to account for their actions, natch.

    How better to do that than to invite the police’s highest officer into the centre of the party’s own, alleged, core accountability mechanism?

    Sauce for the goose, etc…

  • JR

    Is “ard fheis” Irish for conference?

    Ard, means high, tall or open
    Feis means sexual intercourse, meeting or festival.

    So Ard Fheis can mean anything from open meeting to high sex.

  • slappymcgroundout

    “After all, as Alan pointed out, he has attended other party conferences.”

    Then that was a gross mistake. Law enforcement, to include the judiciary as well, must be perceived to be non-partisan. So they don’t attend party conferences, not even as guests/members in the crowd.

  • Tweedybird

    Peter, 7 November 2011 at 12.55am; your balanced and common sense comments are 100% correct. Sinn Féin has members on the policing board so why shouldn’t they invite Baggot to their party conference? Gerry Kelly’s lame excuse as to why they wouldn’t invite him shows their fear of the dissidents, Rev Latimer was a save bet to invite, they could get a lot of milage out of him but Baggot is a different matter he could only do SF harm (internally).

  • harry_w


    Diplomatically, it’s the wrong answer. It puts the host of an event in the position of either having decline to give an invitation or to issue one reluctantly in order to avoid a scene. If one assumed the best intentions, it would be a diplomatic (or social) faux pas. If one is realistic, accepting intentions may not always be as stated, then it’s more likely a stunt simply contrived to embarrass a host and/or create a scene for others to exploit.

    The abnormality is in a senior police officer attending party political conferences. Alan pointed out Baggott toured the DUP and UUP conferences last December, and at the 2010 UUP conference indicated he wouldn’t reject an invitation to the SF ard fheis. So Baggott already pulled the same stunt last year by raising the question himself, rather than simply responding to a question.

    He didn’t achieve his ostensible aim then, yet repeats the same diplomatic stunt now in set-piece interviews with the Belfast Telegraph and BBC. So his underlying aim seems to be to create a diplomatic issue for Sinn Féin in relation to the PSNI. Hence, the Belfast Telegraph’s editorial response praising the move, eagerly anticipating in Sinn Féin’s response as the host put on the spot: “…a brave move and the response of Sinn Féin to it will be interesting. Will the party be prepared to put a senior PSNI officer on its rally platform?”

    Which it followed by Clarke’s article, comparing the response to this edition of the stunt with Hugh Orde’s version, and using the passive voice to ascribing the propaganda message do be drawn: “Mr Kelly’s comments will be seen, by comparison, as part of a process of engagement on the issue.”

    There is something wrong in an officer of a civic body attending a party political event, associating that body with partisan politics. As you even acknowledge by saying it depends “on what is actually said from the platform at the time.”

    The issue to me seems to be the pattern of PSNI chiefs attending party political conferences, and seeking to invite themselves to Sinn Féin’s in particular. Baggott, like his predecessor Orde, is making it an issue making a party political point, and prompting the Belfast Telegraph, and others such as you to do likewise. It seems to arise from a failure to see the distinction between civic bodies and political parties. So perhaps it’s not so surprising that PSNI chiefs should appear at unionist party political conferences, and unionist commentators at the Belfast Telegraph, or others such as you wouldn’t consider it abnormal. Not surprising, but still disappointing that the PSNI is engaging with unionists in party politics.

    A party conference is not an accountability mechanism for guest speakers, in this case a PSNI chief who makes a stunt out of soliciting an invitation. The proper accountability mechanism is through civic bodies, the Policing Boards where the PSNI should account for themselves to elected representatives of all participating political parties. It would be better for political parties to hold the PSNI to account through those Policing Boards, and for PSNI chiefs to stop engaging in party politics with stunts like this.