Mr Speaker I declare my membership of the Policing Board.
I deplore violence. All violence, regardless of the source. I am appalled at what we’ve witnessed, sorry for the police and public who were injured and horrified that these children will be criminalised.
But it is so disappointing to me that civic society is quick to condemn but doesn’t seem to want to understand, never mind address, what is at the root of this. We’re always analysing those who commit crime: what was in their background, what gave them the propensity, broken family, drug abuse, legacy of the troubles, violence in the home. But we should also want to understand why there is rioting and civil unrest now. We also need to look at and consider how did we get here; what brought them to this and what needs to change?
There is massive political and cultural alienation. I’m not condoning or justifying their behaviour, it is never acceptable to burn a bus, throw a petrol bomb, or attack a police officer, but part of this is that they have watched and learned that violence, or the threat of it has often paid off – sometimes literally with funding.
Historically they’ve watched parades re-routed or stopped because of violent protest and fear of disorder. And more recently they’ve watched the law blatantly broken by those who wrote it, without consequence; the political elite in SF, who adopt a do as we say not as we do attitude and bring thousands onto the street and hundreds into a cemetery when every other family got 25 or 30 or 10 and weren’t allowed into the crematorium never mind given control of it.
Sinn Fein, happy to write and endorse draconian laws for restrictions, safe in the knowledge that they can flout them without recourse. Those laws may be for everybody else, but there is another set of rules for Sinn Fein. For they appear to be above the law.
They also appear to be facilitated by the police to breach those laws in ways that are inexplicable and unacceptable.
I want to place on record my full support for the rank and file police officers who are dealing with this on the ground. But something needs to change at the top and at very least, the mentality. The Storey funeral was the benchmark to which all other policing of the restrictions is compared. There are no ifs or ands or buts, there absolutely is two-tier policing in Northern Ireland and the PPS provided the evidence last week. In any circumstance where the PPS writes that the PSNI’s behaviour had bearing in them being unable to bring a prosecution, that is a massive problem and an epic failure on the part of the police.
I have been harping and that’s the only word that adequately describes it – at the policing board about two-tier policing since I got there in 2016. I’ve raised my community’s lack of confidence in the police at pretty much every meeting, private and public. But until recently I was dismissed like a child because the police didn’t believe I was right and didn’t care if they were wrong. We are all supposed to be equal under the law and equally subject to the law. But that’s not the case. And everybody in my community sees it. That’s why all four unionist parties have indicated they no longer have confidence in the Chief Constable and some of his team. Nor do the people we represent. That should matter. But apparently not.
Another example – recruitment. There are five under-represented groups in the police. But there are only four who have support groups set up in the organisation. There are only four with whom the police and the Policing Board pro-actively engage, and when the police advertise, only four are mentioned in the ad. One isn’t. The one exception in every case is working class Protestants.
We recently had acknowledgements from the police on this issue around lack of confidence, but now is the time for action to address it, not more words.
Our community has had enough and so have we. Are some of them expressing their anger and frustration in the right way? Absolutely not, but that does not invalidate their fears and views. They are shared by hundreds of thousands who do not take to the streets. Their behaviour is that of the outlier, but their views are not. Their frustrations are mainstream. They are also ours.
You see, two things can be true at once. It is entirely possible to condemn the violence and yet still be frustrated at the annexing of Northern Ireland through the protocol, believing this is not the Brexit for which you voted.
You can still condemn the violence and be aghast at a weak PPS who tells you not to believe your own eyes, there is nothing to see here, it’s these laws; they are very confusing.
It is entirely possible to condemn the violence and still be angry that there is blatant two-tier policing.
Protestant, Unionist, Loyalist and I am all of those, - no longer feel like they are heard, listened to or valued in what is supposed to be a shared society.
When we raise any of these issues publicly, we, as their representatives are told to tone down the rhetoric. Tantamount to sit down and shut up. But if we can’t raise our voices for those who elected us and their concerns which we share, here, in this political space, then where?
And yes, they are angry and frustrated with us as their own politicians.
So to those engaged in rioting I say, desist, this is not the way. To the rest of my own community who feel ignored and side-lined, I say this: we hear you, we share your views and your frustration. We will represent you and work to restore the imbalances and injustices you feel.