It was interesting for us to note that on the same afternoon that the politicians were putting the finishing touches to the Hillsborough Agreement on the devolution of policing and justice powers to Stormont we had the opportunity to visit the site in Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh, where many members of the old Royal Ulster Constabulary received their initial training. Mention the Enniskillen Depot to any former member of the RUC and they will regale you with stories and incidents that took place there during their training. Many of the police officers who were trained in Enniskillen went on to serve their communities with great distinction during some of the most difficult and dangerous days of the Troubles.
Today the former training facility is the location for the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s Enniskillen station. The PSNI team who are based there gave us an impressive account of the variety of work that they are engaged in throughout Fermanagh. The threat from dissident republican groups is high, and the officers must maintain a high level of vigilance as they go about their work. That threat creates a number of challenges for them in their work, but under excellent leadership, they are seeking to make Northern Ireland a safer place for all for us.
One aspect of their work which caught my attention was their efforts to tackle to problem of alcohol abuse, especially among young people. Following some strategic information, local PSNI officers recently stopped a fleet of buses taking young people to a music event in Belfast. They showed me the haul of alcohol which they confiscated from the under-age drinkers. It was a considerable amount, and clearly cost an awful lot of pocket money.
We discussed how churches can co-operate with parents and the police service in challenging the view that prevails among many young people in this part of the world that happiness and a good time cannot be found unless it is fueled by alcohol. Countering that view is a big challenge which we need to accept. The statistics show that the abuse of alcohol is directly linked with poor physical health, depression, mental illness, suicide, and many deaths and serious injuries on the roads. We are not only foolish, but irresponsible, if we do not make every effort to persuade our children and grandchildren that the abuse of alcohol will ultimately destroy them, and that alcohol will never deliver the happiness and enjoyment they crave.
With the Hillsborough Agreement in place, we trust that our politicians and leaders will be able to concentrate on the important bread-and-butter issues like education, the provision of job opportunities and health services, issues that affect the everyday lives of ordinary people. A professional and effective police service is an essential part of that larger picture. What we saw and were told in the old Enniskillen Depot is that the PSNI is working hard to provide that kind of service, and are doing so with considerable success.