Regardless of political setbacks in the peace process this week, the work of successfully integrating the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s (PSNI) into the lives of both communities in the north is moving ahead successfully.
That was the message brought to the U.S. this week by senior representatives from Northern Ireland’s groundbreaking Communities and Policing in Transition (CAPT) program, in which members of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and the Irish police force (Gardai Siochana) cooperate closely at all levels together.
Launched in September 2009 the cross border CAPT program attempts to defuse the legacy of sectarianism in Northern Ireland by tackling it head on, directly targeting disadvantaged and isolated communities historically distrustful of the police service and scarred by decades of conflict.
The cross border delegation visited with political leaders in Washington and New York this week to brief them on the significant progress their umbrella organization is making in the north. Since its inception CAPT has helped the north’s police force to forge stronger working links with the Republic’s, whilst the organization has also taken on the formidable task of helping to normalize community relations with the police force within Northern Ireland itself.
“Of course we respond to the changes in the political climate, but either way our work is going to have to continue,’ Liam Maskey, Executive Director of Intercomm Ireland, a conflict resolution group, told Irish Central. “It will have to be shirtsleeves rolled up more if the political climate goes sour. But even if it goes well – which we all hope it does – it gives us a chance to put the normalization of community policing into place properly.”
Composed of five main project partners who work in concert, CAPT includes the PSNI, the Garda Siochana, the International Conflict Research Institute (INCORE) the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) and the Tyrone-Donegal Partnership, a cross border development company, in its lineup. The diversity of the participant groups is part of its unprecedented cross border response to the complexity of the problems community policing faces in the north.
“The whole CAPT program was put together because policing is one of the last pieces of the jigsaw to be put in place to normalize Northern Irish society,” Maskey added. “This is a new beginning. The last election in Northern Ireland showed that. The last election could be seen as being fought on policing from both sides. Our organization exists to try and assist the transition of community policing into our civil society. We want to get past the hang-ups the communities have had about the police and indeed the hang-ups the police have had about them.”
Whilst longstanding disputes over sovereignty erupt and are eventually diffused again in the northern Assembly, CAPT has been doggedly pursuing its own community policing objectives in an effort that has seen real dividends and has at times even been streets ahead of the political curve.
“Police officers join the service to make a difference,” Derry PSNI Chief Superintendent Stephen Martin explains. “They join to do their best and to deliver impartial policing to the whole community. I went to Derry as a constable in the 1980’s and I spent 6 years there. I went back 17 years later and the difference in the environment from a policing point of view is transformed. Now I have officers walking through the town center in pairs, I have officers on bicycles. There is a much more normalized policing service in place that has grown from the Patten report and from the Belfast and Good Friday Agreements.”
Martin is heartened that there is no support for dissident activity in the north at all. “Every political party, every shade of opinion in civic society stood up and unequivocally condemned the car bomb attack on Constable Peadar Heffron last week. I think that’s indicative of the change that has happened in society, and of how all shades of opinion in Northern Ireland require, demand and will support policing. The small minority of criminals who are trying to set us back don’t have support now.”
On Tuesday afternoon the CAPT representatives met with City Speaker Christine Quinn to update her on their efforts to promote reconciliation and to assist the transformation in relationships between local communities and the police force. CAPT also briefed her on their efforts to strengthen cross border relationships between the communities and police service.