PSNI chief says dissidents have ’shifted tactics’ towards economic targets
North-South meeting focusses on security cooperation
Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, Northern Ireland Minister for Justice David Ford and PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott in Dublin yesterday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
He was confident, however, that those responsible for recent attacks in Belfast would be brought to justice.
“It’s not like it was in the past,” Mr Baggott said. “These are, for me, signs of desperation by these groupings. Where they belong is Maghaberry [Prison] and that’s where we seek to put them.”
The chief constable said he believed the attacks were also related to the ongoing work of US diplomat Richard Haass, who is preparing proposals for dealing with flags, parades and legacy issues from the Troubles that have dogged the Stormont Executive.
“I think we have seen some degree of terrorist reaction to that in the past few weeks,” Mr Baggott said.
“They don’t want these talks to succeed, and there’s an onus on all the political parties to do what they can to make this a success.”
The findings of the Smithwick report on Garda collusion with the IRA was discussed at the meeting, but neither Mr Ford nor Mr Baggott would be drawn on the issue when speaking to reporters afterwards.
Mr Ford said North-South security co-operation was “exceptionally good”, adding: “From my perspective, what I’m concerned about is the issues which arose in Smithwick which require North-South cooperation. There are clearly issues to be addressed in this jurisdiction and I leave those, whether it be to the Minister or the [Garda] commissioner”.
“The important thing is that we have reviewed what is the situation today and not the situation as it was . . . when those dreadful murders took place.”
Mr Baggott added: “I am in the here and now. Our co-operation is excellent and our friendship is deep.”
Mr Shatter described those who carried out the recent attacks in Belfast as “terrorist thugs” and asked the media not to use the dissidents’ description of themselves as “Óglaigh na hÉireann”, the name of the Defence Forces.
Mr Shatter said some of the recommendations made by Judge Smithwick were already in place, and the authorities North and South would continue to examine further steps that could be taken to implement others.
Asked about suggestions that the PSNI’s historical inquiries into incidents that occurred during the Troubles could be scaled back as part of proposals that may emerge from the Haass talks, Mr Baggott said that while the PSNI had not made a submission to Dr Haass, “the consequences of dealing with the past hinder our ability to deal with the present”.
He said: “We spend something in the region of £27 million every year, out of a finite budget in a time of austerity, investigating events of 30 or 40 years ago. That’s my legal responsibility, and I absolutely understand the needs of victims and families to find out what happened and for justice. But there is a consequence for an organisation dealing with organised crime, terrorism, public order problems of having a significant investigative effort still rooted in 30 or 40 years ago.”