Doug Beattie: No need for a new international police force, the HIU, to probe NI’s past

Doug Beattie MC MLA speaking in the Assembly chamber in January
Doug Beattie MC MLA speaking in the Assembly chamber in January

In 1999 I worked in Kosovo alongside United Nations police – an international police force set up to help Kosovo, post conflict, create a new Kosovar police force.

It was a necessity after the withdrawal of the Serb police and the law and order vacuum that was left behind.

The PSNI is an experienced force and does not need to hand over legacy to an international force. Picture Jonathan Porter, Presseye

The PSNI is an experienced force and does not need to hand over legacy to an international force. Picture Jonathan Porter, Presseye

As part of the legacy stream of talks being held at Stormont Castle, the issue of the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) has been foremost on the agenda.

The HIU’s proposed role is to investigate around 1,800 Troubles related deaths including around 400 deaths connected to state forces, military and police.

So what is the HIU, what is its makeup and how will it operate?

In Northern Ireland – unlike Kosovo – we have an effective and professional police force in the form of the PSNI.

Captain Doug Beattie MC, who is a military veteran, on Remembrance Sunday in Portadown

Captain Doug Beattie MC, who is a military veteran, on Remembrance Sunday in Portadown

They undertake all modern day policing activities with highly technical police techniques and procedures; they also interact with police forces throughout the United Kingdom, the Garda Siochana and even the international police force known as Interpol.

They investigate past Troubles related deaths through the Legacy Investigations Branch (LIB) whose core strategic aims are to review and investigate in order to detect offenders.

They also record, communicate and cooperate with other statutory bodies and families of the deceased.

With that in mind, it is clear that the PSNI are best positioned to continue that investigative role. Yet the HIU intends to set up a parallel police force of around 250 to 300 investigators and staff.

The PSNI will in effect have an international police force working alongside it, but very separate from it, if HIU is set up.

Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

The PSNI will in effect have an international police force working alongside it, but very separate from it, if HIU is set up. Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

These investigators will be recruited and seconded by the director of the HIU from throughout the UK and Ireland; but could also include those with relevant experience from abroad, including mainland Europe and as far afield as South Africa.

It will be in effect an international police force, working alongside the PSNI but very separate from it.

The HIU will be neither crown servants or agents but instead an autonomous force with operational control falling to the director of the HIU not the PSNI chief constable.

It will have a substantial budget allocated by the Department of Justice through the policing board and is set to run for an initial five years, followed by one year extensions.

In understanding the HIU it is hard to see why the same resources – including financial and staff – could not be applied to the PSNI LIB so they could continue to undertake the same role role as they do presently. This would ensure a single uninterrupted chain of command and an already compliant structure with proven relationships with other forces.

The Ulster Unionist Party is the only political party at the Stormont Castle talks who are against any form of international police force being brought into Northern Ireland to police its citizens.

However, the party remains in favour of ensuring the LIB is resourced and its operating procedures reviewed to ensure it is compliant with the ideals of the HIU.

Other issues in respect to the case load also exist but can be overcome if a pragmatic approach is adopted. Those families who want a full investigation into their loved ones’ cases can be offered that, and those who simply wish to have information can also be accommodated.

Northern Ireland is not Kosovo. There is no law and order vacuum here and there is no requirement for a parallel international police force operating alongside the PSNI to investigate UK citizens.

• Doug Beattie MC is Ulster Unionist MLA for Upper Bann