I am all for equality and believe that a disability should be no barrier to employment, but have the police taken this laudable policy too far?
Surely a qualification for any police officer should be the ability to see clearly but apparently this is not always the case.
The decision this week to dismiss a court case against a terrorist march organiser because the PSNI saw no evidence of breaches in the Parades Commission ruling on the march, will rightfully raise anger amongst unionists and once again calls into question the political motivations of the PSNI when it comes to policing parades.
There is a clear instruction from the Parades Commission prohibiting “any paramilitary clothing, display of flags, bannerettes and symbols relating to prescribed organisations and depictions of firearms or uniforms of a prescribed organisation.” All of these were broken by the coat trailing terrorist march through Castlederg in the summer of 2013 as republicans put two fingers up to a community to which their murderous henchmen had brought death and destruction. Yet the PSNI Inspector on the ground claimed he saw nothing during the event which gave him cause for concern.
How did he miss the banners depicting gunmen and firearms, or the drum-skins bearing images of masked gunmen? Did his superiors tell him to look away because the police are adopting a low profile, high tolerance approach to republican law-breaking? Violent protests can occur outside prisons threatening prison officers without sanction. The police keep their distance from protests organised by republicans, allowing them to “police” themselves. The PSNI stay back from republican funerals allowing propaganda displays of paramilitary strength. Leading republicans such as Gerry Kelly can impede the police as he did at Ardoyne, without prosecution, yet the Orange Order and loyalists see their parades and protests heavily policed with harsh penalties imposed for even minor incidents.
Contrast the number of arrests during protests about flags and Orange marches with the number from republican protests. How do the police explain no action against republicans, who at one of their protests surrounded and threatened a prison officer, with the arrest and charging of pensioners with “threatening behaviour”, because they waved flags in the face of the police?
Let me make it clear, if people attend protests or parades and deliberately break the law, then they must expect to be punished. That is why I have made myself unpopular with some by condemning those who have organised such events, knowing that they can easily get out of hand. However the credibility of the police is undermined when they are seen to be applying the rigour of the law to events organised by unionists while adopting the three monkey approach to republican marches and protests.
People who would normally be pro-police have been sickened and bewildered by what they see as political direction of the police. It undermines the great work that community police officers do to build confidence in the police. It also undermines people like me who argue that the law must be obeyed and that support for the police is essential if we are to have a civilised society in which the rule of law rather than rule of the most vicious applies.
The turning a blind eye approach at Castlederg adds to that disillusionment. The PSNI must face up to that.
• Whatever party or parties form the next government they will be faced with continued budget pressures and difficult choices about spending priorities.
Cutting the defence budget has always been regarded as an easy option and both the Labour and Conservatives have taken it. The impacts are not immediate and it is always easy to argue that spending should be on building the economy rather than conflict.
However as threats which will affect our country intensify in the Middle East, North Africa and now Eastern Europe, it would be foolish to take this easy option. Already our 90,000 servicemen and women are deployed on more than 300 commitments in 50 countries and even though our defence budget is at £38bn, at below two per cent of GDP it is at its lowest ever. It is little wonder that the warmongering President Putin feels he can flex his muscles invading our air space and even killing people he doesn’t like on our doorstep.
Various constituents write to me querying our involvement in foreign wars, an unfortunate legacy of the dishonest way in which the last Labour government handled the invasion of Iraq, but the fact is that what happens in Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East does affect us all. We are facing massive illegal immigration from Africa as people flee wars there. Our energy supplies are under threat because of instability in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, our security will be compromised if Islamic terrorists can set up training bases and terrorist sponsoring states on our doorstep in Libya, the Baltic states are strategically important to the Russians if they wished to threaten supply routes to Europe.
We cannot shut ourselves off from threats which emanate from remote places in the world. Despite the pressures on school budgets and hospitals etc. we must retain viable and suitable defence forces and direct necessary funding to them.