April 19 2012

Northern Ireland’s politicians must do more to tackle disadvantage in the areas where dissident republicans hold sway, the chief constable has urged.

Matt Baggott said terror attacks have reduced significantly over the past year and there was evidence police action was hampering the extremists’ efforts to recruit.

PSNI chief constable Matt Baggott has called for more to be done to tackle disadvantage in Northern Ireland’s poorer areas

But the PSNI’s top officer said the threat would never be fully dealt with until the dissidents grip on certain troubled estates – where they can still attract new members – was broken.

Mr Baggott said while the police had a role, a great onus was now on politicians to address the social problems that were rife in those neighbourhoods.

“I don’t think we (the police) could have bust a gut more in the last two or three years,” he said.

“We’ve made mistakes, some things are politically controversial and I hold my hands up to those, but actually overall there are very few places in western Europe that have a significant terrorist threat who are reducing crime, improving confidence and have got more police on the streets in recession, so something we are doing well here.

“But the bit I can’t do is deal with alcohol issues on my own, I can’t improve some of the big estates where the murals still shine, where people get shot in the leg. I can’t do that on my own, so I need the scrutiny to shift now simply from policing onto: what are you doing about joined up social policy?”

He added: “So if there is an area where three times as many young people are committing suicide, which there are, where there’s people dying early because of their health issues, where children think it’s OK to throw a petrol bomb at police, where local groups are shooting youngsters by appointment in the leg, they are the areas where politics needs to come out of that and there needs to be a really joined up social policy approach through 10 year plans of progressive partnership, where health, education, policing – all the sort of interventions that need to be made need to be significantly joined up and prioritised.”

In an interview with the Press Association, Mr Baggott said the onus was on politicians to move beyond traditional politics and take joined up action on social policy. He insisted their efforts to date should not be characterised as a failure, but stressed the time had come where they had to make real changes.

The chief said communities had to rediscover their self confidence in order to sever links with dissidents. “It’s not until communities themselves have confidence to isolate themselves from the people doing this and come to the police quietly and sometimes less quietly with the information we need that we will see that grip being broken,” he said.