Northern Ireland

Matt Baggot says he would address Sinn Fein conference

PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott
Image caption Matt Baggott said he wanted the PSNI to be the 'finest police service in the world'

PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott has said he would accept an invitation to address a Sinn Fein conference in the future.

Mr Baggott said although the decision was "not his call" he would accept the offer, if put to him.

He made the comments in an interview with the BBC on the 10th anniversary of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

"When we go through the process of being seen to be impartial, maybe other invitations will come," he added.

"I am very mindful we have to build confidence in policing in communities where policing is still new. We have go to prove ourselves."

'Shoot and bomb'

Mr Baggott said dissident terrorism was still one of the biggest threats facing Northern Ireland.

He said it remained "severe, persistent and deeply dangerous".

"They (dissidents) don't accept the will of the people or politics. They want to shoot and bomb their way to something that quite frankly doesn't have the support of virtually anybody."

Mr Baggott said targeting "disadvantaged areas" was an important part of combating the terrorist threat.

"How can we make sure we don't have six-year-olds growing up hating the sight of a uniform," he added.

Speaking about the 10th anniversary of the formation of the PSNI Mr Baggott said he wanted the service to the "finest in the world" by 2021.

"In 10 years time wouldn't it be great if we no longer had a core of people not willing to buy into democracy and the will of the people," he said.

"If they could actually take a step back and reflect on the damage they are causing and quietly be put into the shadows."

From its birth in 2001, there was a very mixed reaction to the new police service. The RUC name was scrapped in favour of the PSNI and a drive was put in place to make the force 30% Catholic.

Mr Baggott said the service was "unrecognisable" from the one he joined, and he hoped its transformation would continue.

Credibility

Sinn Fein have given a cool reaction to Mr Baggott's comments.

The party's policing spokesperson Gerry Kelly said that his credibility among the nationalist community was "fairly low".

"His willingness to attend a Sinn Fein ard fheis sometime next year will not resolve that, nor should it be allowed to distract from significant issues which he has yet to adequately address," he said.

"The key to building confidence and support in the PSNI is evidence of good policing on the ground, of accountable policing.

"That's where the focus needs to be and needs to be kept."

The next Sinn Fein ard fheis is due to take place in May 2012.

You can more of Vincent Kearney's exclusive interview with the Chief Constable to mark the 10th anniversary of the PSNI on BBC Newsline at 18:30 GMT on BBC1

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