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Last Updated: Saturday, 12 August 2006, 09:58 GMT 10:58 UK
'Don't dwell on past' urges police chief
Mark Devenport
By Mark Devenport
Political editor, BBC Northern Ireland

The Chief Constable, Sir Hugh Orde, recently walked into his office at police headquarters in Belfast to be greeted by a loud explosion.

Some of his colleagues hit the floor, whilst the "boss" started to dust off bits of ceiling that had peppered his uniform.

Was this the work of dissident republicans or maverick loyalists?

Sir Hugh Orde
Sir Hugh Orde urges people to look to the future of policing

No - this is Northern Ireland 2006 and the guilty party was some seriously faulty wiring.

Sir Hugh aspires to a world where all explosions turn out to be accidents.

He takes heart from what has been, by Northern Ireland standards, a remarkably peaceful summer marching season.

That said, he thinks it's not realistic to expect the evolution to peaceful politics to be 100% perfect.

This week's firebombs at stores in Newry, County Down, served as a reminder that some people remain determined to turn the political clock back.

Speaking before a telephone admission from the dissident republican Real IRA that they were behind the Newry incendiary attacks, Sir Hugh told the BBC's Inside Politics programme he was keeping an open mind on whether the perpetrators were "dissident republicans" or "disaffected republicans".

Sir Hugh is well aware of the impact a report into past errors can have on officers currently serving
That fine distinction indicates Sir Hugh believes there may be individual followers of the Provisional IRA who are so unhappy with Sinn Fein's political direction that they could be tempted back into violence.

On the loyalist side, he welcomes the fact that the UDA appears to have avoided an open feud.

He indicates that the recent seizure of Powergell explosive was linked to the police response to the UDA feud, and was not part of a UVF cache.

Sir Hugh regards analogies between the murder of Robert McCartney and last month's murder in Tobermore of the Scottish man Ronald Mackie as valid.

In Mr Mackie's case it has been fear of the UVF, not the IRA, which has made some witnesses reluctant to come forward.

However, the chief constable did welcome statements by the UVF-linked Progressive Unionists urging people to co-operate with the police investigation.

Robert McCartney
Robert McCartney was stabbed to death in January 2005

With the potential for both witness and juror intimidation still a fact of Northern Ireland life, the chief constable backs the idea that - once the Diplock courts are abolished - judge-only trials should still be available in exceptional cases.

With some retired detectives arrested, then released, by the Police Ombudsman, Sir Hugh is bracing himself for the potential impact on his force of Nuala O'Loan's latest inquiry into allegations of collusion involving informers within the UVF.

Sir Hugh served in the Metropolitan police seven years ago when the Stephen Lawrence inquiry labelled the force "institutionally racist".

Therefore, he is well aware of the impact a report into past errors can have on officers currently serving.

He believes his job will be to differentiate between what he views as the best practice of the PSNI now and how the RUC Special Branch handled informers during the Troubles.

But the chief constable knows that the Police Ombudsman's findings are unlikely to make it any easier for him to sell his argument that instead of dwelling on the past the politicians and the public should look to the future so far as policing is concerned.




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