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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent


Newton Emerson • Irish News, 05.06.03

Many Irish News readers have yet to receive ‘community permission’ to attend their local Community Police Liaison Committee but no such restriction applies in my neighbourhood. Unfortunately nobody seems to have told the neighbours as only seven of us have showed up for tonight’s quarterly CPLC meeting. We sit facing three policemen - Officer A, Officer B and Officer C - across a green-baize conference table amid the stuffy Edwardian splendour of Portadown Town Hall. Sitting by the far wall, beneath a not-that-bad painting of the High Street, are the coffee and biscuits.

Every CPLC meeting I’ve been to so far has followed a strict protocol. First the residents complain about crime, then the police complain about resources, then everybody drinks the coffee and eats the biscuits. We kick off with the traffic issue or as it might be more accurately titled on the minutes, ‘Why can’t I get out of my drive-way in the morning?’ Officer B patiently notes down several dozen suggestions for traffic lights, yellow boxes, double-yellow lines and speed bumps then politely reminds us that this is the DOE’s department. Actually this is the DRD’s department but the point is that it isn’t Officer B’s department. There’s also some anger over disabled parking spaces but that isn’t Officer B’s department either, nor have we had any luck with the 3am horn-blowing taxi driver problem as the police haven’t contacted the local taxi firms yet - no wonder this country is falling apart. The officers are more interested in the problem of untaxed vehicles, although I’m fairly sure that’s the DVLNI’s department, but seizing the offending vehicles has been difficult because “they keep moving”.

Next on the agenda is the skateboarding menace. Portadown’s skateboarders are not a problem in themselves, being generally decent kids who don’t cause any bother. The problem is that all the other kids in Portadown keep beating them up. One resident suggests opening school playgrounds in the evening so that the skateboarders can have somewhere safe to go but Officer B says that’s the Education Board’s department. “They do it in Holland,” says the resident, “so why not here?” I stupidly point out that you can smoke joints in the street in Holland as well, which proves to be something of a conversation stopper. So we move on to the general problem of ‘anti-social behaviour’ and things really start heating up. The truth is that my neighbourhood does not have a serious problem with anti-social behaviour but the sense of powerlessness in the face of isolated incidents is a disaster waiting to happen. Last month some ‘neighbours from hell’ were evicted with the assistance of the UVF which several of us highlight as an example of how things are deteriorating. The police response to this takes me by surprise. First they acknowledge the “loss of confidence to deal with things the right way” and say they “recognise the temptation to contact organisations”. Then they point out that residents groups in other parts of the town have used just such contacts to deal successfully with graffiti and vandalism.
“Well I’m not talking to terrorists!” I blurt out, having one of my occasional Jeffrey Donaldson moments. The policemen stare pityingly at me across the green baize.
“So what would you like us to do?” asks Officer C.
“We’d like more police patrols” says the head of our residents group.
“I can’t guarantee that” says Officer C.
“Well can you plan for extra patrols?” I ask.
“Yes” concedes Officer C suspiciously.
“Can you guarantee to plan for extra patrols?” I ask.
“You’re being pedantic” observes Officer C.
“Well you’re being defensive” says the residents group spokesman.
“No I’m not!” shouts Officer C, “you don’t understand! We don’t have the man-power, there are worse neighbourhoods than yours, we have to prioritise!”
“We shouldn’t even be organising these meetings,” interrupts Officer B. “You should be organising them and inviting us - along with everyone else you need to deal with.”

There’s an awkward pause before everybody jumps back in to defuse the atmosphere with platitudes, invariably beginning with “The reality is…” and indeed reality is beginning to dawn. We thought we were coming here to tell the police how to do their job and instead the police are telling us how to do our job. Much as I would like to stand aloof from their ugly pragmatism it would achieve nothing bar the preservation of my own self-righteousness. Everybody talks to terrorists, and that’s brought tangible improvements to communities far more blighted than mine. We don’t have the luxury of splitting our world into ‘criminals’ and ‘law-abiding people’ divided by a thin blue line because that line has been blurred by recent history then deliberately blurred again to help undo recent history. This is a society with a lot of problems to solve - too many, certainly, for the police to handle on their own - and it seems that in Portadown, at least for a little while longer, we’ll have to accept that some things are still the UVF’s department.



This article was first published in the Irish News and is carried here with permission from the author.



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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



I have spent
many years of my life
in opposition, and
I rather like the role.
- Eleanor Roosevelt

Index: Current Articles

5 June 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Irish State Collusion with MI5
Eamonn McCann


Use of Loyalty
Mick Hall


Victimisation of Victims
Christina Sherlock



Newton Emerson


Heat, Not Necessarily Light

Anthony McIntyre


The Party's Fool

Karen Lyden Cox

Targetting Iran
Michael Youlton


2 June 2003


Nameless, Faceless
An Apology to Our Readers

Carrie Twomey


Hypocrats Accuse West Belfast Man of Being RUC Tout
Anthony McIntyre


Connolly and the First World War: Political Lessons for Today

Liam O Ruairc


I Got Your "Stake Knife"
Brian Mór


Hey, Fugheddaboutit
Brian Mór


It Wasn't Me
Brian Mór


The Chessboard: Another Great Game

Davy Carlin

The Last Time I Saw Mu`ab
Annie Higgins




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