When something as fundamental as policing is used as a political gambit, it is the community who is held hostage to negotiation. One of the most frustrating aspects of the negotiations of the peace process for those who are not participants in the talks but who must live with the results of them is the lack of any substantial movement or change on the basic, common sense issues. Policing is but one example of this, and the need for decent, accountable policing is a need deeply felt in all communities, despite any political or cultural divide.
There is nothing radical in demanding a just police force, that acts as a neutral arbitrator of the law; a police force that is accountable to the people it serves and whose standard operating procedure is transparent. There is nothing radical in wanting to feel safe in one's own neighbourhood, to have the confidence that nothing untoward will happen to one's self. There is nothing outrageous or over the top in wanting the security of knowing there is someone to be called and relied upon, who will be fair and consistent, when trouble does arise.
And yet, we, the ordinary people who live in the ghettos of Belfast are told that it is too much to deliver. That it is too controversial. Things such as what symbol goes on top of a hat that may or may not be worn are of much more importance, and must be fought over tooth and nail before anything such as actually allowing the police to do the job expected of them for all the people they are meant to protect and serve gets talked about! I imagine that for those people who have signed up to join the police out of a desire to see justice protected and upheld, to serve their community, and who believe in the rule of law must be just as frustrated with all the political dickering going on as those who must suffer without any sort of police service at all. It is not as though creating a police force that operates in peacetime and does not serve as an auxiliary to the war is rocket science, or without precedent or examples from across the world of how good police forces work, and how bad ones don't.
As the times here have evolved and changed throughout the peace process, so too has the role of the police. The ironic part is that the needs of the people have stayed constant throughout. It is time to stop making the police a tool of the state, an arm of repression, an instrument of terror and intimidation, and to get down to the business of creating a police force that all of the people they protect and serve can have confidence in.
Without a police force that the people whom they serve have confidence in, too many social ills run rampant. We see that in the increase in our neighbourhoods of hoods and thugs and joyriders and drugs; we see that in a generation of children who have no respect whatsoever for any sort of authority, and little concept of why they should respect it at all. Until we get our act together, and hold our politicians accountable for representing us outside the remit of political point scoring and actually delivering on our basic needs, we have little hope of ever enjoying a fair and accountable police force for all.
That unfortunately does not augur much hope for the future or the peace process. Time will tell.