THE appalling incident in Lurgan at the weekend when two thugs attempted to gain entrance to the home of a young mother and her toddler while shouting the foulest sectarian abuse will yet again see the PSNI’s stock tumble in the eyes of the nationalist and republican community right across the North.
No-one can seriously expect the police to guarantee the safety of all families or individuals who find themselves living in loyalist areas where unfortunately all too often people are sent fleeing from their homes for no other reason than their religion. But the response to what is objectively one of the most worrying and terrifying instances of naked hate and sectarianism has been problematic on a number of different levels.
The most charitable way we can describe the police’s reluctance to refer to the shocking crime – which went viral and has caused disgust and disbelief not only here but across the water – as a ‘hate crime’ is puzzling. That’s particularly true when we consider that the PSNI immediately described the removal of a union jack from the middle of an Omagh field before a Championship GAA match as – yes – a hate crime. While the theft of the flag undoubtedly featured an element of sectarianism, it was quite clearly an incident which sits at the lower end of the sectarian scale. And since it also featured a degree of provocation on the part of whoever decided to put up a flag in an empty field off a road used for parking before big matches at Healy Park, the seriousness of that offence is mitigated even further.
And then we consider the – dare we say it? – very un-PSNI-like rapidity with which an arrest was made in the wake of the Lurgan incident and a man bailed. The slowness of the police here in reacting to alleged crimes revealed on social media is well documented. Death threats routinely take an age to chase up while famously a young journalist who endured a rape threat to her baby child was forced to wait an agonising three years for the case to be put before the PPS only to be left “devastated” when prosecutors told her that insufficient evidence had been put before them to allow them to proceed with charges. And yet in this case, just hours after the sickening video was posted online a man had been arrested, processed and bailed. Details of the bail conditions have not been released and we do not know if any conditions were imposed in relation to the man’s place of residence; what we do know is that the young woman and her toddler are now ‘sofa-surfing’ – finding a place to sleep wherever they can while their home lies empty, the front door no doubt still bearing the marks of the attempt to beat it down to get at the terrified young family inside.
Meanwhile, senior unionist figures have at best shamefully attempted to equate the Lurgan incident with the Omagh flag incident and at worst have completely ignored it. That, of course, tells a story of its own.