The PSNI isn’t guilty of ‘political policing’. It does appear, however, to lack political awareness. Officers need to be savvy.
They need to take account of the historical and political context of their work. It can’t be wise to take important decisions in a political vacuum.
The police do have a duty to follow the evidence wherever it leads but why can’t they do it with discretion and common sense? Provided an investigation isn’t going to be compromised, why not?
To arrest the president of a major political party is bound to have political ramifications. To do so during an election risks interfering with the democratic process. If these ramifications have to be faced up to, then so be it.
On the other hand, in the case of a crime that happened 42 years ago what practical difference was a further delay of three weeks going to make? As I say, provided the investigation wasn’t going to be compromised, why not hold off and avoid arresting a top politician during an election campaign? Wouldn’t that be common sense?
One of the problems in the north, and it’s by no means confined to the police, is massive ignorance of political affairs in the Republic.
To arrest the president of Sinn Féin wasn’t likely to impact on the democratic process here to anything like the extent of its possible impact in the Republic. There, it could have actually altered the outcome. There are two reasons for this.
Firstly, in the north most voters have long since factored in allegations about Gerry Adams. Secondly, with the north being a single constituency, it’s less volatile than the electoral situation in the Republic with its three constituencies. Add in the fact that Sinn Féin has been enjoying unprecedented support in the Republic’s opinion polls and the arrest had the potential to significantly alter the result.
Is this a risk the police should appear to take lightly? Clearly not, they should only intervene in the democratic process if, for operational or evidential reasons, no other course is open to them.
Nothing we know about the arrest of Gerry Adams suggests there was any urgency. It seems unlikely that a further short delay in questioning him would have had any adverse impact on the evidence.
I don’t buy the suggestion that the timing was the work of a “dark side” in the PSNI. A minority of police officers may have been uncomfortable with radical reform 14 or 15 years ago but their day has long since passed.
A much more likely explanation is that the police were simply demonstrating their lack of political nous and judgement.
The credibility of this explanation was reinforced by reports that detectives wanted to charge Gerry Adams with membership of the IRA. As Britain’s most senior politicians negotiated with him to secure peace, presumably on the basis that they thought he could speak for the IRA, it’s most unlikely that it could be in the public interest to prefer a membership charge now.
I appreciate that the public interest issue is one for the prosecution service and not the police, but if reports were correct then the police were again betraying their lack of historical and political awareness.