PSNI report: Credible attempt to anchor the policing service within the life of a Republican community. 

An interesting responses to a new report out from the PSNI, which makes several recommendations for changing how it polices south Armagh. There’s a lot of material in there, including performance comparisons with Newtonhamilton.

Such as…

1,606 stop and searches were carried out in D District between April 2019 and December 2019. Within this period Crossmaglen LPT used stop and search powers on 6 occasions and Newtownhamilton LPT on 166 occasions.

There’s a fair amount of emphasis on how despite the size and locality of the Crossmaglen station, local people cite  poor response times as a major complaint, particularly with regard to a growing drug problem in local villages.

A lot of critical unionist commentary has been in response to the recommendation that the Crossmaglen station be closed. But, as the report discloses:

In 2019/20, 53 security related incidents were recorded across Northern Ireland, none of which occurred in South Armagh. There were no recorded security related shooting incidents, paramilitary style attacks or incidents involving explosive devices.

No person residing in the area was detained and charged under Section 41 Terrorism Act 2000. In the last 5 years there have been a total of 5 terrorism related searches and 1 arrest. The last terrorist incident occurred in 2015.

On this point it notes that “distorted perceptions resulted in disproportionate tactical mitigations, bringing security to the forefront of policing delivery.” A CI says locals are “not happy with the policing style as it is over the top”.

Interestingly police opinion on using liveried vehicles (they don’t have access to them in Cross) would be positive, with one constable noting wryly that “Newry may suffer more in liveried – nobody stones police in South Armagh”.

Flexibility of delivery of policing was looked for too, this from restorative justice representatives:

“People feel more comfortable in their own area. It’s about how to get police to feel comfortable to go there…Have a plan to have pre-arranged clinics in locations within villages…there is a need to move around. Really any small group attendance by police is a clinic… If there is a spate of burglary or anti-social behaviour in an area, go there.”

From a community with a foot on each side of the border, one local public representative notes:

“It is totally crazy that PSNI are not allowed to cross the border in pursuit…Ambulances cross the border from Daisy Hill to Dundalk. Rescue services and Fire do it – why not police? It doesn’t make any sense…I would like to see more cooperation.”

That could lead to a mess if it ended in the application of lethal force in the south. But at the border roads dip in out of Northern Ireland many times. Stopping at a “line in a road” that only leads back into NI makes no sense.

Especially if there’s no access to it from the south to allow the Guards to intervene. But this is where the report calls for stronger cross border governance to produce robust protocols in order to reduce such possibilities.

There are no fewer than 50 recommendations for change in the 170 page report. Some of them ought to be subject to genuine consultation. Any removal of the memorial to police officers should only be done in consultation with families.

Some angry response focus on the ‘withdrawal’ theme of closing down what ought at most to be a small rural police station but which is in fact still a military fort that in the words of one local “no one goes into and no one comes out of”.

The question of whether there ought to be a continuing physical presences in the village is a separate point, and one that should be further considered in light of continuing concerns about rural crime on both sides of the border.

The report gives a number of practical ways of tackling this physical remoteness from the local community (who, at least going by the report, much prefer being policed by the PSNI than active or former paramilitaries).

Normalising the police in South Armagh is not, as Jeffrey Donaldson has argued, a concession to all island policing, but a credible attempt to anchor the Police Service of Northern Ireland in the life of a northern Republican community.

In that regard it is a direct challenge to those who imagine people can be kept in Northern Ireland only by force, rather than because they actually prefer to live there. As my dear friend David Brewster told Slugger back in 2003:

The weakness of Unionism is that they haven’t said to people in Crossmaglen, for instance, ‘you are British citizens or subjects’. Not in a shoving it down your throat way, but you have the opportunity to be a Gaelic-playing, Guinness-drinking, Irish-language-speaking Briton.

Crossmaglen is not what it was, and this report does good work through its broad engagement with the local community (not just the usual ‘spokesmen’) flagging up those changes and setting course for a different horizon.