Policing and Nationalism: “It’s too soft and it needs to be stronger. You need to be firmer.”

There’s been some fascinating comment on the Peadar Heffron interview that our new blogger “Pluto” mentioned yesterday. The interview was published nearly two weeks ago, and yet the issue seems to be reverberating still.

The position of nationalist policemen and women (and Heffron was certainly that) has been given little public consideration. After an empty formula of platitudes, it appears they’re just routinely abandoned to their fate.

It’s another sin of omission that’s become commonplace in the current simulated hunger games routines that passes for our politics. Last week’s Justin McNulty, the SDLP’s MLA for Newry and Armagh was a notable exception:

It is well worth watching McNulty taking on Gerry Kelly for the weakness in his party’s rather effete official statement that “no one should be marginalised because they choose a career in the PSNI”.

That’s not enough. All young Irish men and women who join the Gardai are young Irish policemen.  Young Irish men and women who joined the PSNI are Irish policemen.

They should be held with the same respect and the same esteem as members of the Gardai. There’s too much ambiguity around that statement. It’s too soft and it needs to be stronger. You need to be firmer.

People who join the police are brave young men and women and they should have our full support. They should be admired by the community for the service they provide, keeping people safe in their homes.

“If you want me to say it, I can say it as well” retorts SF’s Policing spokesman.  [Just another empty formula eh Gerry? – Ed]  Meanwhile, throw another Nationalist cop on the fire?

Okay, that’s flippant. But the underlying point isn’t, which is that individual Nationalists are politically mandated by the Belfast Agreement (which neither the DUP nor SF signed) to serve a legitimised Northern Irish state.

Whatever the transgressions of the cops – and in every democratic space Juvenal’s quis custodiet ipsos custodes is an axiomatic given – the strength of commitment to the wider job they do ought to be unconditional.

McNulty is talking about police regardless of political allegiance, so there really shouldn’t be a distinction. But the Heffron story demonstrates there is a deep weakness in the depth of support our cops actually get.

Much of the focus on “dealing with the past” has been about the unresolved (and possibly unresolvable) issues of past experience. But it should also comprise a strong component of living up to present commitments.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty