by Ray Fleming

It was on Good Friday 1998 that the elusive peace agreement between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland was finally accomplished so there is a sad irony in yesterday's announcement by the Police Service of Northern Ireland that four officers were under suspicion of circulating racist and sectarian texts within the Service.

The Good Friday Agreement did not solve all of Northern Ireland's problems and the formation of a new police force to replace the Royal Ulster Constabulary, tainted by years of hostility towards Catholics, proved to be the most difficult of all. However, a new police force observing strict ethical standards has been created and appears to have the reserved respect of Northern Ireland's two religiously divided communities.

Yesterday's statement by the Chief Constable did not identify the officers under suspicion -- a wise precaution given the extreme sensitivity of the accusations -- but their names and the nature of their sectarian views will soon become known.

Meanwhile, in what is proving a very difficult year for the Metropolitan Police in London, eight officers have been suspended in connection with allegations of racism backed up by a tape recording in which one of them is heard abusing a young black man in custody. The identification of the Met's “institutional racism”, first made in 1999 in a report on its handling of the Lawrence case, seems never to go away.

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