A former Presbyterian moderator yesterday asserted that ambiguity about active support for the PSNI “nourishes the soil” in which the poisonous weeds of partisanship, indifference, criminality and even terrorism can grow in Northern Ireland.
The Rev Dr Norman Hamilton, speaking at the Presbyterian General Assembly in Belfast, said the abject silence from so many public representatives over support for the police must end.
Dr Hamilton’s comments came during a debate which led to the General Assembly accepting a motion which reaffirmed active support for a properly accountable police service – the PSNI, operating through the Policing Board and the Police Ombudsman’s office.
The Assembly also encouraged all who participate in public parades and protests to obey the law and avoid any behaviour which is “not for the overall good of society”.
The Assembly urged all those who speak in the public square to ensure they use words that heal rather than hurt and, where there is legitimate disagreement, a generosity of spirit is shown so that no one is demeaned or devalued for holding a different view.
Dr Hamilton, welcoming the appointment of George Hamilton as the new PSNI Chief Constable – “a local boy made good” – said policing can only work when it is done with full community support.
“The PSNI is one of the most publicly accountable police services in the world and, on that basis alone, it deserves the highest level of support from all parts of our community,” he said.
He said the Presbyterian Church and society committee was increasingly concerned at the silence of so many public representatives and those in accountability structures to state and restate as often as is necessary their active support and encouragement for the PSNI.
“It is imperative that such support is mentored publicly by our elected representatives and all those in governance, so that those of us in the wider community are not left isolated in support for local officers who fight crime in our neighbourhoods or seek to keep order on the streets, or deal with the horrors of domestic and racial abuse.”
Dr Hamilton added: “If any of the accountability structures themselves are inadequate, then they should be rebuilt.”
The Assembly also reaffirmed support for the Northern Ireland prison service and other criminal justice agencies.
Dr Hamilton also gave his backing to a motion reaffirming the traditional Biblical view on marriage. “Once again there is a loud silence across so much of our society as to how to strengthen the historic institution of marriage and the healthy family life that we all wish would normally accompany it.”