Information is too thin on the ground

Community News
Community News

The Edward Street ex-offenders’ hostel saga is an object lesson on how not to keep the public abreast of happenings when planning something controversial.

It’s a symptom of the modern-day policy of keeping the plebs in the dark.

Significantly, the project is located in Edward Street, which has been sealed off “for security reasons” for the best part of 40 years. There is no indication exactly why the street continues to have barriers at both ends, and when – or if – the minimal PSNI presence will be shifted from the antediluvian police station.

The Simon Community-managed hostel project started many years ago, aimed at the homeless. With the understanding and support of the area, it knitted in well. It was regarded throughout the town as an integral part of Portadown.

In these days of universal communications (emails, smartphones, Skype and the like) we can talk to friends or business contacts on the other side of the world and also see them, on ‘miracles’ like FaceTime. And the PR industry, almost non-existent a few decades ago, is mushrooming.

But try to find out what’s going on in your own back yard, be it roads, health, security, education, whatever. It almost takes the skills and tenacity of a miner extracting precious metals from deep in the earth - and in a country with many tiers of government (councillors, MLAs, MPs and MEPs) whom we voted into power. Yet, we have to go through multi-layers of ‘minders’ to suss out the most basic information.

The people of Edward Street claim that the ex-offenders facility replaced the homeless hostel without any consultation. They add they don’t know what type of ex-offenders are being accommodated; they don’t know where they’ll be decanted while the work is ongoing; and they insist they were wrong-footed by the borough council in the approval of the scheme. They may even have to go to the trouble and expense of a judicial inquiry to expedite the matter.

The same seeming cloak of secrecy also percolates the police service. The Portadown station is now a minor operation, with a reported two or three officers (part-time) dealing with general inquiries. Yet, the street is still barricaded off at both ends as if it were a mini-MI5.

It’s doubtful whether it presents any security problems, as it’s no longer fully operational, unlike scores around Northern Ireland, which are totally accessible. And the PSNI has been reticent to explain exactly why.

Not so long ago, when the police service in Portadown was fully operational – with Edward Street the epicentre – information was fast-flowing and open. But that is no more. It’s like the strange case of the “distressed man” at Abercorn Park at the weekend, when three fire engines (with officer wearing breathing apparatus) raced in, as well as a police car and an ambulance.

Residents were told nothing – just that “there is no cause for alarm”. They were hard to convince, with all that action. But it exemplifies the dearth of information in these “need-to-know” days. And it mirrors the perceived attitude surrounding the so-called ‘open prison’ at Edward Street.