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Policing in Northern IrelandDelivering the New Beginning?$

Desmond Rea and Robin Masefield

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9781781381502

Published to University Press Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.5949/liverpool/9781781381502.001.0001

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The American and International Dimensions

The American and International Dimensions

(p.553) Chapter Eighteen The American and International Dimensions
Policing in Northern Ireland

Desmond Rea

Robin Masefield

Liverpool University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter sets out the significant interplay with and impact of exchanges with overseas policing paradigms, paying particular attention to the historic links between Northern Ireland and America and the close relationship with the Policing Board from the moment of its establishment, including both participation in annual visits to the White House by Board members and others involved in policing in Northern Ireland, and contacts with the US Consul General in Belfast. The chapter also notes the international conference in Belfast in February 2007 arranged by the Board addressing both progress made in Northern Ireland and developments in policing internationally, and the many visits to the Board by representatives from foreign countries as well as overseas fact-finding trips by Board members. The concluding section begins with an assessment by Mary Alice Clancy of the role played by the US Presidents’ special envoys to Northern Ireland, and ends with an analysis of the importance of the exchanges with American police and policy-makers in particular.

Keywords:   America, US President, White House, US Consul General, Special envoy

18.1 Introduction

The relationship between Northern Ireland and the United States of America is both multi-layered and multi-faceted. It is also a good deal older than many realise. In 1636 a group of Northern Ireland Presbyterians (principally of Scottish descent) set sail for the Massachusetts Bay Colony in North America from Groomsport in the Eagle Wing, although they were beaten back by storms in mid-Atlantic. Subsequently, it is estimated that in the 18th century several hundred thousand people of the Protestant (mainly Presbyterian) persuasion left Ulster for what were then the American colonies, while in the 19th and 20th centuries many Irish people, predominantly Roman Catholic, emigrated to America. No less than 15 American Presidents have been of Ulster stock. There has been an American Consulate in Belfast for over 200 years.

In more recent times the American Government played a significant role in Northern Ireland’s peace and political processes. Successive American Presidents appointed special advisers with particular responsibility for Northern Ireland. The Irish (in particular the green) vote was a significant political influence on Capitol Hill in Washington. During much of the Troubles the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) and then Sinn Féin garnered direct support from America.

Another strand has related to the development of policing on both sides of the Atlantic. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) was modelled in the 1860s quite largely on the Royal Irish Constabulary. We have foreshadowed earlier in this book the American influence on the development of what became the Police Service of Northern Ireland (the Police Service or the PSNI), both through the Membership (p.554) of Dr Gerald Lynch, President of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York, and Kathleen O’Toole, previously Massachusetts Secretary for Public Safety, on The Independent Commission On Policing For Northern Ireland (the Independent Commission), and through policing good practice from America quoted in the latter’s Report.

This link continued during the time of the Northern Ireland Policing Board (the Policing Board or Board), with regular visits to America, including a number of well-publicised visits to the White House during the St Patrick’s Day celebrations in March each year. Many American politicians took an interest in developments in policing in Northern Ireland, paying close attention, for example, to the regular reports from the Police Oversight Commissioner. The Policing Board considered that it was important to give a first-hand account in Washington and elsewhere of the progress and the challenges, and to provide accurate information to those with influence in America who were potentially prepared to encourage Sinn Féin to support policing, if they judged that it was warranted by the extent of the progress. On the other side of the coin, developments in policing in America also continued to be of importance to the Policing Board; examples included the theoretical and practical applications of the principles of ‘Broken Windows’, linkages with academic establishments, and representation of the Board at Conferences, seminars, and on sponsored visits.

Additionally, in recent years the British Government has also looked to American police leaders, techniques, and oversight arrangements as a source of guidance for reshaping policing methods and accountability in Great Britain.

18.2 The Relationship between Northern Ireland and America Prior to the Belfast Agreement of April 1998

There are many sources from which one could draw to describe the relationship between Northern Ireland and America prior to the signing of the Belfast Agreement in April 1998. The American Presence in Ulster, a Diplomatic History, 1796–1996, by Francis M. Carroll, puts more recent events in a valuable historical perspective. As Carroll notes, the Irish question did constitute a problem for the American (p.555) Government at the time when President Woodrow Wilson, the descendant of Ulster immigrant grandparents from County Tyrone, led the Democratic Party, which drew much of its urban support from the Irish–American community. In Belfast the new Northern Ireland Government consulted the United States Consul on the American educational model. During the Second World War over 100,000 US troops were initially posted to Northern Ireland for training and acclimatisation purposes before moving on to various theatres of war.

In 1969 money was raised by Irish–American groups to provide aid primarily to Catholic families who had lost their homes during rioting in August of that year. Leaders from Northern Ireland’s Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) were invited to tour major cities in America raising awareness about the situation in Northern Ireland. (Interestingly, the MP Bernadette Devlin and Rev Dr Ian Paisley also visited America at that time.) A hundred Members of Congress, led by the Speaker of the House, the Irish ‘Tip’ O’Neill, wrote to President Nixon asking him to do something about the sectarian clashes in Northern Ireland. In America the Irish Northern Aid Committee, known as Noraid, with Michael Flannery as a key figure, emerged as an influential pressure group. It was generally understood, as Carroll records, that Noraid diverted significant amounts of its funds to purchase weapons for the PIRA. In subsequent years the Irish Government as well as the British Government sought to reduce the flow of funds and equipment from America. Within the United States, in the later 1970s Senator Edward Kennedy, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, House Speaker Tip O’Neill, and former Congressman Hugh Carey – the ‘Four Horsemen’, as they were known – came to support a moderate Nationalist position on cooperation with the British Government.

Political factors also influenced efforts by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) to improve their equipment on various occasions during the Troubles. A request from the RUC to purchase automatic weapons from America in the late 1970s was denied as a result of Congressional pressure, although an earlier order placed through the State Department had been fulfilled.

Bill Clinton, following his election to the White House, demonstrated a personal interest in Northern Ireland. In 1993 he explored with the British and Irish Governments the appointment of a special (p.556) envoy to promote peace in Northern Ireland. In April that year Gerry Adams applied – unsuccessfully – for a visa to travel to the United States. Following the Downing Street Joint Declaration, in January 1994 Adams renewed his application for a visa. In the event, at the personal decision of President Clinton, Adams was granted a 48-hour visa.

President Clinton and his wife flew into Northern Ireland on 30 November 1995. One of the purposes of the visit was to promote the peace process. In a speech in the Mackie’s plant in West Belfast President Clinton stated that:

Violence has no place at the table of democracy, and no role in the future of this land. By the same token, you must also be willing to say to those who renounce violence and who do take their own risks for peace that they are entitled to be full participants in the democratic process.

Less than three months later, in February 1996, the IRA broke their ceasefire. Later that year former Senator George Mitchell was appointed as one of the co-chairmen of the plenary sessions of the all-party talks. George Mitchell’s sustained commitment and political skills have been fully recorded elsewhere, but they undoubtedly played a major role in the reaching of the Belfast (or Good Friday) Agreement on 10 April 1998. In September that year President Clinton came back to Belfast to demonstrate his support for the Agreement and the opportunity it represented for an acceptable form of self-government for all sectors of the community in Northern Ireland. The newly elected First Minister David Trimble, the deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon, and the British Prime Minister Tony Blair joined the President in making speeches at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall. The President condemned the Real IRA bomb at Omagh the previous month and stressed that the opportunity for peace must not be allowed to slip away. Later that evening he said publicly

Three years ago, I pledged that, if you chose peace, America would walk with you. You made the choice, and America will honour its pledge.

(p.557) 18.3 The Relationship in the Time of the Policing Board

Members of the newly appointed Policing Board and others involved in policing in Northern Ireland visited various locations in the United States in December 2001 in a programme partly devised by Mediation Northern Ireland. Although the timing conflicted with urgent work that had to be taken forward by the new Board in Belfast, the visit was an early, tangible sign of the importance for the Policing Board of links with America both in terms of contacts with opinion-formers in that country and also in keeping abreast of developments in policing and wider law enforcement there.

Dr Richard Haass had been appointed as the Special Envoy for Northern Ireland by President George Bush in 2001. He visited the seventh meeting of the Policing Board on 6 March 2002. In his opening remarks, welcoming Ambassador Haass, the Policing Board Chairman drew attention to the successes the Board had already achieved through a process of discussion and compromise, and the independence it had demonstrated. He concluded by saying:

We look to Ambassador Haass and his colleagues for support in our task of delivering for the people of Northern Ireland a police service which can work closely with, and is responsive to, the local communities it serves.

In his response Ambassador Haass said that policing in Northern Ireland was a key issue for the US Government. He looked forward to assisting the Board in any way possible in delivering a new police service. A colleague explained the training opportunities available for police officers at the FBI National Academy and said that the US Government would be lifting its ban on FBI training for PSNI officers. Specifically, a place would be reserved for a PSNI officer on the 10-week FBI Joint Leadership Development training course in Quantico, Virginia, in June and autumn 2002. In discussion, Dr Haass said that he had called on Sinn Féin privately and publicly to reconsider its position and nominate representatives to serve on the Policing Board. There was discussion also about the opportunity for the authorities in both jurisdictions to learn from each other on tackling drugs and racketeering problems.

In summer 2002 the Chairman of the Policing Board, together with (p.558) the Police Ombudsman, had a meeting with the US Congressional delegation, led by James Walsh, that visited Belfast. This was an important opportunity to provide Members of Congress with an insight into policing developments. Mr Walsh was Chairman of the Friends of Ireland, having been first named to that post by the Speaker of the House in 1995. He had also accompanied President Clinton on his visits to Northern Ireland and was responsible for the Walsh Visas, passed by Congress in 1998, which as part of the peace process allowed citizens from Northern Ireland to live and work in the United States for five years.

In autumn 2002 the US Congress voted for an in-depth State Department report on Northern Ireland policing and human rights. This was reported in the newspapers as in part being prompted by perceived delays in introducing the Independent Commission’s Report, including the lack of secondment of senior Gardaí into the PSNI and the slow progress in introducing a new Police College and the reformation of Special Branch.

There were many two-way visits and exchanges. In early summer 2003 a delegation from the US Committee on International Human Rights met the Policing Board Chairman and Vice-Chairman during their visit to Belfast. The group wrote that they were heartened by the progress in the criminal justice system since their previous visit in 1998. Their report was subsequently published in March 2004. It noted that ‘the pace and transparency of policing reforms has been striking in comparison to reforms of other criminal justice agencies’.

In September 2003 Mediation Northern Ireland was involved in arrangements for a further civic policing project exchange visit to Boston in which they invited representatives of the Policing Board and District Policing Partnerships (DPPs) to participate. It was seen as a tangible opportunity to demonstrate support for DPPs. Separately, Policing Board Members were briefed on contacts that had been established with Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, which had developed a model of best practice with regard to how police engage with the community to establish a common framework for problem-solving. The Boston programme included a presentation on the concept of community policing from Professor George Kelling of Rutgers University and Paul Evans, the then Police Commissioner in Boston (who was later to hold a senior advisory post in British policing.) Those (p.559) who went on the study visit included the Policing Board Chairman, two Political Members and several members of DPPs.

In December 2003 there was a Belfast leg of the second UK–US Police Chiefs Conference under the heading ‘Shared Challenges, Shared Solutions’. The conference was addressed by the Policing Board Chairman and Vice-Chairman. Delegates included the Executive Director of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), the chiefs of the Miami, Minneapolis, and Kansas City Police Departments, the Deputy Commissioner of the New York Police Department, and the President of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).

In March 2004 the Policing Board Chairman and Chief Executive (on behalf of the Vice-Chairman) travelled, at the invitation of the American Special Envoy Dr Mitchell Reiss, who had succeeded Ambassador Haass, to Washington for a programme of events which included a meeting with President Bush at the White House. A major focus of the St Patrick’s week had been policing. Two DPP representatives had also taken part in the visit. In a subsequent discussion at the Corporate Policy Committee of the Policing Board it was agreed that there was a need to reflect on the enhancing of the Policing Board’s profile in the USA and how this could best be addressed.

Also in March 2004 was a hearing on human rights and police reform in Northern Ireland held by the United States Helsinki Commission, an independent agency of the United States Government charged with monitoring and encouraging compliance with the Helsinki Final Act and other Commitments of the 55 countries participating in the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. This body, which included Senator Hillary Clinton, took evidence from Mitchell Reiss, the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman, and other Northern Ireland commentators. The chair, Congressman Chris Smith, observed that this was the eighth hearing that he had chaired on human rights in Northern Ireland and at each policing and police reform had been a central theme. Previous witnesses had included Chris Patten, Maurice Hayes, and Rosemary Nelson. Congressman Smith noted that much had improved since the first hearing in 1997.

Dr Reiss cited Commissioner Constantine’s conclusion in his latest Oversight Commission’s report that the PSNI was making excellent progress in implementing the programme of change mandated by the Independent Commission. He added that public attitudes towards the (p.560) police had improved in the years since the establishment of the PSNI. He also stated that Sinn Féin should take up its seats on the Policing Board and influence the future of policing from within. Dr Reiss noted that, since the restrictions had been lifted on FBI training for the PSNI in 2001, two officers had been trained at Quantico and Chief Constable Hugh Orde was to begin executive training there that very month. He also said that there had been an excellent return on the ‘investment’ represented by eight exchange programmes in the last few years involving those in the PSNI and its oversight bodies. He noted that Policing Board Members had credited their visit to New York and Washington in late 2001 as helping them to establish their expertise and to develop a common civic vision that had stood them in good stead in tackling controversial issues in early 2002.

Shortly afterwards, in May 2004, the Policing Board Chairman and an Independent Member visited Washington and New York, where they held talks with leading politicians and other opinion formers. During the same month over 160 DPP members and senior police officers met leading community and policing representatives from Boston, Massachusetts, at a function in Lisburn organised by the Policing Board. The delegates included the PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler. Mediation Northern Ireland played a valuable role in facilitating such exchanges, as did Boston College.

Successive United States Consuls General made a significant contribution to the political and peace processes. Outgoing Consul General Barbara Stephenson was invited to attend the Public Session of the Policing Board in July 2004. The Board Chairman paid tribute to the great interest that she had taken in the Board and its work, and the very important contribution that she had made. In her response she said:

Can you remember when everybody who knew anything knew that this Policing Board was going to split on sectarian lines, fail on its first mission and never work? Now here we are years later and you are the one organisation that is really still functioning so you just keep at it. I am so proud of the Policing Board.

In the following month Political Member Mr Joe Byrne (SDLP) represented the Policing Board at the International Law Enforcement Forum conference in Washington DC.

(p.561) In September 2004 another large group of DPP members and senior police officers met leading policing and community representatives from Canada, with whom they discussed best practice in community policing experiences. Later that month Mitchell Reiss addressed the National Committee on US Foreign Policy in New York. Speaking on policing, he noted that ‘within the PSNI, a new force is being built, with the new culture, grounded on the philosophy of community policing and the need to respect human rights’. He noted the role played by the policing community in New York, including Jeremy Travis of John Jay College and Jim McShane, who had spent several days in Northern Ireland in 2002 ‘talking with Northern Ireland politicians about community policing, including in his father’s home village in South Armagh’. Referring to the multi-party talks at Leeds Castle that had taken place earlier in the month, which he had attended, Dr Reiss expressed the hope that the talks would signal a change in Sinn Féin’s approach to policing. He noted the editorial in the Boston Globe the previous week calling on Sinn Féin to join the policing oversight bodies. He believed that Irish-America shared this view.

The Policing Board Chairman and Vice-Chairman accompanied four Policing Board Members, four PSNI District Commanders, and four DPP members on a study visit to Boston and Chicago in March 2005. The theme of the visit was ‘communication and community policing’. The group had the opportunity for discussion with Kathleen O’Toole (a member of the Independent Commission), who pointed to the valuable advice that the PSNI had provided to the Boston Police in relation to crowd control as the city prepared to host the 2004 Democratic Convention. Their approach had greatly assisted in the policing of large and potentially volatile crowds. One of the conclusions drawn by the delegates was the advantage of a single call centre for all emergency services and for greatly improved call-handling.

On 13 March 2006 the Policing Board Chairman received a letter from Henry Hyde, the Chairman of the Committee on International Relations of the House of Representatives of the United States Congress, inviting him to testify at an oversight hearing entitled ‘the Northern Ireland peace process: policing advances and remaining challenges’. This hearing was held jointly by the Committee on International Relations sub-committees on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations, and Europe and Emerging Threats, one of (p.562) which was chaired by Representative Chris Smith. The invitation was to testify just two days later, on 15 March, with the Chairman’s written statement to be transmitted to the Committee within 24 hours. As the Policing Board Chairman and Vice-Chairman were in Washington DC for the events of St Patrick’s week, they had the opportunity to testify.

Henry Hyde’s letter stated that the peace process had arrived at yet another crucial turning point:

Perhaps no issues are as important as policing reform and the resolution of unsolved killings from the troubles in Northern Ireland. … This hearing will help the US Congress and others understand the complex situation in Northern Ireland and help guide our efforts to cooperate with the various political groups and communities in Northern Ireland, and with the governments of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland to assist in the realisation of genuine peace and stability in Northern Ireland.

Members of the Policing Board had discussed in early February of that year the opportunity that the now traditional visit to Washington in the context of the St Patrick’s Day celebrations there would provide an opportunity for the outgoing Board Chairman and Vice-Chairman, and a representative from each political party (Ian Paisley Jnr (Democratic Unionist Party (DUP)), Alan McFarland (Ulster Unionist Party (UUP)) and Joe Byrne (SDLP)) to promote the achievements of the Board in its first term to people of influence in America. The Board representatives met key opinion-formers and advised them of progress in policing in Northern Ireland. Following press enquiries, the Policing Board published a detailed account of the programme (and costs) for the Board Members’ visit.

A further visit to Washington and New York was made by the Chairman and the new Vice-Chairman, Barry Gilligan, in July 2006, in response to a request from Mitchell Reiss.

In 2007, around the time of the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis decision in January in relation to policing, Chief Constable Hugh Orde undertook a visit to New York and Washington. This was followed by a visit in early February from the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman and then a visit from seven Members of the Policing Board, including the Chairman, in the middle of March. Their meetings included one with the new US Special Envoy Dr Paula Dobriansky, who had succeeded Dr (p.563) Reiss, and an invitation to the Speaker’s lunch on Capitol Hill hosted by the Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi for the Taoiseach. They represented the Policing Board at the St Patrick’s Day reception in the White House.

Subsequently, in April 2007, Policing Board representatives and DPP members participated in the PERF annual meeting in Chicago. The Board Chairman and Jane Gordon, the Policing Board’s Human Rights Adviser, addressed one of the plenary sessions on the theme of lessons learned from Northern Ireland. The Chairman gave a comprehensive interview to the Irish American Post setting out the progress in policing in Northern Ireland.

On 13 November 2007 the Policing Board welcomed the new US Consul General, Susan Elliot. She said:

In my first few weeks in Northern Ireland, it has become very apparent to me that police reform is one the most significant and remarkable achievements of the peace process. The United States recognises the critical role the Policing Board has played in the transparent, efficient and accountable policing service that is evident throughout Northern Ireland, and I look forward to working with the Board.

In March 2008 the Policing Board Chairman and Vice-Chairman, plus one representative from each of the political parties (which now included Sinn Féin), represented the Board in Washington. The meetings attended by the delegation included separate discussions with Congressmen Peter King, James Walsh and Richie Neal of the Friends of Ireland Group, and Senator Ted Kennedy’s staff. A report of the visit was published on the Policing Board’s website.

In May 2008 the Policing Board Chairman attended an in-depth discussion organised by PERF in San Francisco that discussed, in particular, the strengths and weaknesses of different models of police accountability and relations with the community. Those present included police chiefs and Commissioners from several major US cities, such as Bill Bratton, then Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. This conference again underlined the personal commitment to Northern Ireland policing of Chuck Wexler as Chief Executive of PERF, and the mutual benefits in the links between those responsible for policing in Northern Ireland and in America.

(p.564) In January 2009 the Chairman attended on behalf of the Policing Board the Transnational Policing Programme held in Boston College and in Tucson, Arizona, covering the approach of American police in combating organised crime and cross-border trafficking.

In March 2009, after careful consideration of the costs and benefits, the Policing Board again agreed that the Chairman and Vice-Chairman, plus one representative from each of the political parties, should travel to Washington. At the Public Session of the Policing Board on 2 April the Chairman reported that he and the Chief Constable had briefly met President Obama and the First Lady and the President’s words of encouragement for policing and the work of the Policing Board had been very welcome. His message to them had been that ‘The United States will always stand with those who work towards peace’.

18.4 Policing a Divided Society – a Conference

In February 2007 a three-day conference, bringing together 300 delegates from police services and policing accountability and research bodies from around the world, was arranged by the Policing Board and the PSNI with the following objectives:

  • to showcase and reflect on the progress which had been made in developing policing in Northern Ireland since the Independent Commission on Policing Report in 1999

  • to receive presentations on topics where there were new developments in policing internationally in order to stimulate further thinking on policing improvement in Northern Ireland

  • to assist the new Policing Board in establishing its vision and priorities for policing over the next five years

It was most timely, as the conference took place in the period following the St Andrews Agreement and the public decision by Sinn Féin to support policing and criminal justice.

During the first two days of the conference topics covered included ‘embedding a human rights ethos’, oversight and accountability, and ‘what gets measured gets done’ (performance management); ‘hate (p.565) crime – silence is not golden’ and ‘policing – a collective responsibility’; terrorism and organised crime; and ‘bridging the gap – managing public expectations’.

The contributors included Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner; Kathleen O’Toole, Chief Inspector, An Garda Síochána Inspectorate; John Timoney, Police Chief, City of Miami Police; William Bratton, Chief of Police, Los Angeles; John Mack, President of the Board of Release Commissioners, Los Angeles; Dr Maurice Manning, President, Irish Human Rights Commission; Professor Ron Goldstock, former Director, New York State Organised Crime Task Force; the chiefs of the police services in Dallas, Providence, Seattle, Leicestershire, and Cheshire; Chuck Wexler, Executive Director, PERF; and, from Northern Ireland, Professor Monica McWilliams, Nuala O’Loan, and Al Hutchinson.

In the session on ‘Policing a Divided Society’ the former Vice-Chairman of the Policing Board, Denis Bradley, offered this perspective:

The policing problem in Northern Ireland started not with “The Troubles”, but in the 1920s and was to do with differing views about the legitimacy of the State. The first act of genius was the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 which enabled everybody to engage in a political process through which the issues could be addressed. Since policing was too difficult politically to handle at the time the setting up of The Independent Commission On Policing For Northern Ireland – was the second act of genius. It gave an opportunity to create a policing system capable of commanding general support.

Gil Kerlikowski, the Seattle Chief of Police, said at the conference:

The PSNI offers the greatest story of change in policing anywhere in the world at the present. Police managers in other countries have much to learn from its experience, including the contribution not only of the Chief Constable and his senior team but that of those responsible for oversight, of the community and of politicians.

Professor David Bayley, School of Criminal Justice, State University of New York (and part of the Police Oversight Commissioner’s Team), commented:

(p.566) Northern Ireland as a whole has been an international success in ending conflict from which others should learn and the recent experience with policing has enormous implications for the rest of the world. It has done this in three main ways: it has worked through the issues of sovereignty and sectarianism to reach a stable position; it has re-oriented its police service and brought it to one which engages with the community; and it has grappled with the issue of paramilitaries in a post-conflict situation.

A paper entitled ‘Reflections on District Policing Partnerships (DPPs)’ was published to coincide with the conference. It profiled the work of DPPs in the evolution of policing since their establishment in March 2003 and showcased their work to the international audience. A pre-conference seminar focusing on DPPs was held on 19 February 2007.

A brief ‘alternative’ conference entitled ‘Collusion – the elephant in the room?’ was held on 20 February 2007; speakers included Geraldine Finucane and Raymond McCord Senior. This was intended as a ‘fringe event’ to coincide with the international policing conference, making the point that collusion was not on the agenda at the conference.

The report of the International Policing Conference ‘Policing The Future’ was published on 2 August 2007. On the publication of the report, the Policing Board Chairman said:

The policing service must continue to change, evolve and grow to meet changing society and community needs. With increasing diversity in society, engaging communities and building public confidence in policing must be a priority, particularly where communities have been disaffected.

18.5 Contacts with Other Bodies and Individuals

From its beginning the Policing Board was of interest to a wide range of visitors, both local and from overseas.

In 2002 the Board received visits from President Bush’s Special Envoys – Richard Haass and then Mitchell Reiss – and from the Irish Foreign Minister, Brian Cowen. There were many overseas visitors, some in connection with a wider trip to the United Kingdom, others focusing just on Northern Ireland and its policing arrangements. For example, during 2006 there were visitors from Pakistan, Iraq, Latvia, (p.567) Kazakhstan, the Basque Country, and Kashmir. (Such visitors often came first to the Policing Board and then, following their establishment in 2004, to one or more DPPs.) In November 2006 the Policing Board Chairman met David Cameron during a visit by the latter to the PSNI College at Garnerville.

On 11 September 2003, at the Chairman’s initiative, the leaders of the four main churches in Northern Ireland visited the Policing Board and met the Chairman and Vice-Chairman for a wide-ranging but informal discussion on the role and work of the Board. Also that autumn, following the attendance by the Board’s Chairman at the Police Federation conference, the then Chairman of the Northern Ireland Police Federation was invited to speak to Members at the following Board meeting. In 2004, again at the Chairman’s instigation, the Board was to be given a briefing by a senior English journalist on the report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence in London and the subsequent investigation by the Metropolitan Police.

The Policing Board also hosted a number of national and international visitors; for example, at the Public Session of the July 2003 Board meeting the Chairman welcomed the Assistant Commissioner of the Victoria Police in Australia. Two months earlier the Chairman and Chief Executive of the Police Complaints Authority in England and Wales met the Board’s Chairman, Vice-Chairman, and the Chairman of the Complaints Monitoring Committee when they visited Northern Ireland. The level of visits was sustained over the years; for example, at the Board meeting in October 2008 the Chairman welcomed the Chairman of the (then) National Policing Improvement Authority, senior officers from the Dutch police, and officials from the Scottish government and Strathclyde Police Board, along with members of the Grampian Police and the Scottish Police Authority Convenors Forum.

Sometimes the contacts focused on a specific issue. Two such examples which illustrate the approach of the Policing Board were community policing and improved call-handling.

In September 2003 a group of DPP members and managers were part of a study visit to the United States to look at a number of community-based policing initiatives in Boston. In May the following year there was a reciprocal visit. Later in 2004 the Policing Board worked in partnership with PSNI to bring a group of Canadian police (p.568) officers and community workers to Northern Ireland, focusing in particular on the work of DPPs and the wider area of policing with the community.

Following the interest in the issue during the 2005 Boston visit, a Member of the Board participated in a study visit to the Chicago Emergency Services Call Management Facility in January 2006, on which he reported to the Board subsequently. This also followed a paper from the PSNI on the extent to which the Service had considered work relating to call management in England and Wales. The Board supported in principle the introduction of a new single non-emergency number and looked forward to an integrated call management system. The Board followed this up in questioning of the PSNI in December 2007. It was explained that the PSNI had established a project to deliver a corporate call management solution which would align the Northern Ireland processes to the ACPO national call handling standards. In response to a question from a Board Member suggesting that in rural areas a lot of people thought there was no point in reporting a crime because nobody would ever turn up, the Chief Constable said that the PSNI were probably unique within the United Kingdom in terms of the number of calls they did respond to physically, rather than taking reports on the telephone, as most other police forces had begun to do.

In June 2008 a presentation was given to the Board’s Resources and Improvement Committee by a senior police officer from Lothian and Borders (which followed a visit by Board Members to that force). It was agreed that a paper on the chronology of the call management issue would be circulated to all Members. The PSNI agreed to provide more detailed and regular updates to the Committee from September 2008. While a previous presentation from the PSNI had stated that a two-centre contact management structure, similar to the one operated by Lothian and Borders, would be completely delivered by December 2010, in 2008 the PSNI announced that it would formally adopt the ACPO guidelines on call handling, including the National Call Handling Standards. Given the resource constraints, the PSNI would introduce a distributed rather than the two-centre model. Board Members stressed the importance to the public of this issue, which was an area on which the police would be judged very strenuously.

(p.569) 18.6 In Conclusion

An interesting article by Mary Alice Clancy entitled ‘The United States and post-Agreement Northern Ireland 2001–6’ that appeared in Volume 18 of Irish Studies in International Affairs flagged up the significant impact that the US President’s special envoys to Northern Ireland had had during the Bush administration. This she attributed largely to their autonomy. She further noted that, while both the Clinton and Bush administrations had described their roles as ‘honest brokers’ in the peace process, in practice ‘both administrations displayed a marked preference for supporting Dublin when disputes have arisen between the Irish and British governments’.

The article also pointed up the impact of the Al Qaeda attacks on 11 September 2001. In the author’s view, this major act of international terrorism on American soil undoubtedly hardened attitudes in the United States against a potential return to terrorism by the PIRA. Indeed, the PIRA announced its first act of decommissioning six weeks later.

On the other hand, she noted that US officials had the impression that Richard Haass to an extent backed off his initial demand that Sinn Féin join the Policing Board. She distinguished the position of Mitchell Reiss, for whom, in her words, ‘policing would become his central preoccupation as special envoy’. In March 2005, not long after both the Northern Bank robbery and the murder of Robert McCartney, she noted that Gerry Adams was not invited to the annual St Patrick’s Day celebration at the White House, but that Robert McCartney’s sisters and partner were guests of honour instead. Again she made a link to a subsequent statement on 6 April 2005 in which Gerry Adams called on the PIRA to considering engaging in purely political and democratic activity. In her view, Mitchell Reiss remained consistent in his view that Sinn Féin’s joining up to policing and taking its place on the Policing Board was a precondition for the entry of the DUP into devolved government in Northern Ireland.

Chris Patten’s book What Next? Surviving the Twenty-First Century was published in 2008. He recalled that, after leaving his job as Chairman of The Independent Commission On Policing For Northern Ireland, he travelled regularly to Washington and other American (p.570) cities to explain British policy in Ireland and to try to persuade US politicians to stop IRA fundraising in their country. In his words:

It took 9/11, IRA involvement with Colombian terrorists and the bravery of the McCartney sisters – who refused to allow the sanitisation of their brother’s murder at the hands of IRA Members, to change public and political opinion in the US, obliging politicians to recognise that the IRA was not the militant arm of the St Vincent De Paul Society.

Given the geographical distance, it might seem curious that the Policing Board had so much contact with American politicians and the policing community – indeed, arguably more than with British or Irish counterparts. Certainly, senior Members of the Policing Board or DPP representatives were never invited to Whitehall or to Dublin in the same way as they were to Washington. But, as we have already seen, both the make-up of the Independent Commission and the report itself drew significantly on American policing expertise. It was natural for this connection, once made, to work through in tangible form when the Policing Board was established.

Strategically, the importance of regular visits to Washington and New York in particular lay more in the political than in the straight policing context. As we have seen above, there was very direct interest from elected politicians in the Capitol and from others, such as the President’s special envoy, in the progress of the implementation of the Independent Commission’s recommendations. Policing was at the heart of the political process in Northern Ireland, especially at a time when the Policing Board was the only functioning cross-community organisation during the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Policing Board, as indeed did Chief Constable Hugh Orde, had credibility with United States politicians as first-hand participants containing a majority of elected representatives, in a way that the former, unelected, Police Authority could never have. Board Members’ plain-speaking accounts of the challenges and indeed shortcomings in some areas, as well as the wider progress made, supplemented the reports of the US Consul General in Belfast and the Police Oversight Commissioner.

In the context of the determination of both the British and the Irish Governments, together with the Chairman and Vice-Chairman (p.571) of the Policing Board and the Chief Constable, to bring about a situation in which Sinn Féin could and would make a public commitment to support policing and directly participate on the Board, the American dimension was an influential and arguably vital one.

Politics aside, it was undoubtedly valuable too for Members of the Board, and members of DPPs as well, to gain direct insight into approaches to policing and oversight in North America. That they often travelled as part of a wider Northern Ireland group including serving police officers and sometimes other community representatives provided a rare chance for those with different perspectives on policing in Northern Ireland to have informal exchanges outside the local political context. Such exchanges also provided a valuable perspective for participants on the position in their own communities, where, for example, levels of gang or gun crime and indeed homicide in US cities could be significantly higher than those then pertaining in Northern Ireland. It was also not lost on Board Members that across the United States there were cities and States where the proportions of ethnic groupings (in the particular city or State) were not reflected in their police force.

It is striking that there was considerable continuity among the Board personnel who travelled to Washington and elsewhere; this helped to reassure their American contacts that the Board was continuing to thrive. The visits also provided some elected representatives in Northern Ireland who might otherwise not have travelled to the US with a deeper appreciation of what America had to offer to both the political and the peace processes. In turn, the progress reports provided in America by senior Members of the Policing Board undoubtedly played a significant part in helping US politicians to gain a clearer understanding of policing and accountability reforms in Northern Ireland since the Independent Commission’s Report, and consequently to urge support for full participation in policing by both communities in Northern Ireland. While there were, in the later years, some public criticisms of the cost of the annual visit to Washington in March, the Policing Board very deliberately published details of the visits, including a breakdown of the expenses.

In short, the Policing Board has been well served through its varied American contacts, including Presidential invitations, attention from the United States Consul General in Belfast, the commitment (p.572) of successive Presidential special envoys, and the study visits and exchanges facilitated by academic and policing institutions in North America. In turn the Board has been a valuable model for a range of other countries’ governments and international groups wishing to explore policing reform and greater accountability.


Bibliography references:

Carroll, Francis M., The American presence in Ulster, a diplomatic history, 1796–1996, Catholic University of America Press, Washington DC, 2005

Clancy, Mary Alice, ‘The United States and post-Agreement Northern Ireland 2001–6’, Irish Studies in International Affairs, 18, 2007, pp. 155–173

Patten, Chris, What Next? Surviving the Twenty-First Century, The Penguin Group, London, 2008