Sir Hugh Orde: A community without collective memory is impossible to police

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The Independent Online

In September 2002 I was appointed Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland during a time of immense change. I served as the Chief Constable for exactly seven years, retiring from that position in September this year.

They were difficult and on occasions extremely challenging times, but hugely rewarding. Sadly near the end of my tenure the past came back to haunt us and Sappers Azimkar and Quinsey were assassinated outside Massereene Barracks on 7 March 2009, as they prepared to go to Afghanistan later that evening. Constable Stevie Carroll was murdered on 9 March 2009 by dissident Republicans as he responded to a call for help from a distressed citizen in Lurgan. Sadly Lost Lives needs a new and updated edition, entries 3713 to 3715.

It was soon after my appointment that it became clear to me that if we were to move policing on in the new world post-Belfast Agreement, our history would act as an unwelcome anchor unless we thought very carefully about how we, as a police service, could contribute to a process that brought some resolution to the many victims' families who had so many unanswered questions about the circumstances surrounding the deaths of their loved ones. I was clear that to achieve a lasting peace the difficult territory of the past had to be confronted. Peace was indeed the difficult prize.

The challenge was complicated by the lack of a collective memory about the past. There was no common past. Professor Daniel Bar-Tal, in an essay called Collective Memory, Intractable Conflict, Education and Reconciliation, argues that all nations and ethnic groups need a common past in order to structure social identity and solidarity. We were far from such a state. Policing itself was subject to wildly different accounts, ranging from heroic fighters of evil to co-conspirators and assassins. There was without question a growing willingness to face up to some of these issues in a rather disorganised way, but what was absent was any determined effort to find a model to meet the needs of the community in coming to terms with or acknowledging its past.

This is an extract from the President of the Association of Chief Police Officer's Longford Lecture, sponsored by The Independent