SO the South Armagh brigade of the PSNI has been subjected to a review by the PSNI Chief Constable and a report has been published with recommendations.
At the heart of the need to do their review was an acknowledgement that the PSNI in South Armagh is “reminiscent of legacy policing”. “Legacy policing” is, I assume, the RUC. And apparently this “legacy policing” style is “heavy- handed and disproportionate with a militaristic style and tone” that is “not acceptable to the local population”.
Despite the Patten report being published in 1999, yes 1999, policing in South Armagh is described as framed by “Cultural re-enforcement by visible artefacts and narrated anecdote... constantly present”. Most tellingly, “Officers with no experience of legacy policing quickly assimilate into the prevalent style and tone.” That style and tone is considered unhelpful.  Strip that down and you get a picture of a PSNI that is in fact the RUC in culture and attitude.
This report makes clear that the RUC is alive and well in South Armagh. But now the PSNI Chief Constable wants to do something about it. Which is good. But the obvious question is this: Why only South Armagh? We know that the review was conducted as a result of the horrific Christmas Day photograph of him with his militarised colleagues in South Armagh, which gave us all just a bit more indigestion than the Christmas pudding ever could, but why limit the issues and review to one geographic area?
In February of this year the families and injured affected by the Ormeau Road bookies atrocity suffered RUCesque policing. Mark Sykes, injured by bullets fired at him from state weapons by state agents, was charged with disorderly conduct by an RUC/PSNI hybrid. The Chief Constable came under just as much heat and pressure about that outrage as he had done in 2019. The same issues of “legacy policing” were at stake, if anything more so, as the issues of state-sponsored collusion in five killings had been writ large.
There are numerous limitations of this report, found on the Newry, Mourne and Down PSNI webpage, but that it is about perception and improving perception of a “local population” speaks to something important. It is handy if it is only about the South Armagh locals because that means that there is no real need to address actual abuses and harms – only how people perceive them in South Armagh.
It means pretending the “legacy” of RUC policing hasn’t critically damaged the PSNI and so doesn’t need to be named, let alone held accountable.
It means the PSNI can continue to pretend in courts that it’s capable of investigating the past, including in cases where the state is culpable.
It means turning a blind eye to the Police Federation, representing the PSNI rank and file staging a coup on “legacy” and reject Stormont House while its Chief Constable is on record supporting the implementation of Stormont House.
The entire PSNI needs a review. Putting up a few signs as Gaeilge is not going to cut it 22 years later. It requires a facing up to the real legacy of the RUC, its harms and abuses. It requires banning plastic bullets. It requires meaningful new policing instead of dancing with the pernicious ghost of the RUC.