Orde: Stormont not addressing causes of conflict

The North's outgoing police chief has today accused the Stormont administration of not doing enough to tackle segregation and division in the region.

The North's outgoing police chief has today accused the Stormont administration of not doing enough to tackle segregation and division in the region.

Hugh Orde said while his officers remained determined to face off the threat posed by dissident republicans, the authorities had to do more to address the underlying causes of conflict and tension in the region.

Preparing to leave the Police Service of Northern Ireland after seven years at the helm, he urged the North's government to deliver on its all encompassing 'Shared Future Strategy', which he claimed had been left on the back burner.

"We (the police) will continue to push edges in terms of what we can do, but it's hugely disappointing the Shared Future Strategy is not right at the top of the public agenda, it hardly seems to be on the agenda at all," he said.

"There are real issues, social issues that need to be addressed by all communities and all institutions if we are to move on and understand why people just still don't get on in the routine of their daily lives, why we still have segregated communities, why we still have peace walls?

"Those are questions that are far wider than policing that seem to be a bit on the back burner, so that needs to move on."

Orde's last two years in charge have witnessed an upsurge in dissident republic violence, claiming the lives of two British soldiers and PSNI officer Steven Carroll in two murderous attacks in March.

Dissidents were also blamed for whipping up riots that ignited on the streets of Belfast during July's marching season and last weekend seven armed republicans set up a road block in south Armagh in a scene reminiscent of the dark days of the Troubles.

Before leaving the PSNI to take up his new role as president of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), Orde said the groupings intent on dragging the North backwards would be defeated if the police, politicians and communities kept working together.

One key element of that is securing the devolution of policing powers from Westminster to Stormont, he added.

"The more community support we get, the more disenfranchised this group becomes," he said.

"That doesn't mean they won't keep trying to recruit vulnerable young people to do their dirty work for them, of course they will, that's what they are in the business of doing, but if we maintain, if we hold our nerve, if politics moves on, if devolution of policing and justice takes place, all those things contribute to what is unstoppable, which is a more peaceful Northern Ireland."

The 50-year-old former Met officer said one of the biggest challenges facing his successor Matt Baggott was managing the service in the face of a dwindling budget, which he saw cut by more than £120m (€137.1m) in the last review of spending.

Having already faced criticism for closing a series of police stations and winding up the full time reserve support group, Orde conceded more hard choices over resources lay ahead for his long time friend and colleague Mr Baggott, who is leaving Leicestershire police to take up the £184,000 (€210,223) a year post at the PSNI.

"I think one of my successor's biggest challenges will be how much of the available money can he secure to deliver policing and within that he's got to maximise the front end and minimise the back end, which raises all sorts of questions about the numbers of police officers, the numbers of support staff, have we got the mix right, have we got the balance right, what are we doing now that we can stop doing to release that capacity on the front line?"

While crime rates have dropped by almost a quarter during his tenure, the PSNI also failed to secure convictions on high profile cases such as the Omagh bombing, the murder of Belfast man Robert McCartney and the £26m (€29.7m) Northern Bank Robbery.

He says it is for others to judge his legacy, but for him one the most significant achievements of the last seven years has been the growing engagement between officers and communities that, in the past, would never have contemplated co-operating with the police.

"Communities are working with us and we are working with communities who historically would not have been working together, that's why crime had gone down," he said.

Chairman the Northern Ireland Policing Board Barry Gilligan paid tribute to the outgoing chief.

"During his tenure as chief constable, Sir Hugh has made a significant contribution to policing in Northern Ireland," said Mr Gilligan.

"There is no doubt that he leaves a very different organisation to that which he took charge of almost seven years ago. On behalf of the board, I would wish to place on public record our thanks for his contributions to policing here.

"In leading the PSNI, Sir Hugh has not shirked from dealing and confronting the many challenges faced.

"Much of his focus was, of course, delivering on the change programme for policing, and as a result we now have a service that has been subject to a reform process that represents what is best in modern policing practice, oversight and accountability.

"At all times he has provided a strong leadership role to the officers and support staff he commands, and presented a public profile that is professional, and has helped build confidence in policing.

"In his future role as president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Sir Hugh's policing experiences here will be used to the benefit of other services nationally and internationally.

"As a board, we wish him well for the future."

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