A CALL FOR CALMER WATERS – PART 2 – WHAT EXACTLY SHOULD THE RGP BE DOING?
Policing is one of those few professions, like education and health, which has deep connections with our social life, social progress, and ability for us to change. A Police force which is willing and ready to evolve and keep up with the times is one which undoubtedly has the safety of our population at heart; it is this mantra that the RGP has consistently demonstrated in the fulfilment of its main function – to enforce the laws of our territory and maintain order.
The new Commissioner of the RGP, Eddie Yome, has clearly shown that the RGP are becoming more flexible, as shown by the recent drive for neighbourhood policing and an increased presence in the places that matter most. I don’t know about you, but I feel much safer knowing that there is a manned police post near me.
But as a police force, there are a number of things that are priorities in ensuring the ability to function as expected. These are:
1) Clear and concise laws
2) Resources (number of officers, equipment etc)
3) No political intervention in the exercise of their duties
If the above are present, then there would unlikely be a problem with enforcing any law. Unfortunately all three points have been / still are a problem in the current dispute.
ENFORCING THE LAW AT SEA
Many in Gibraltar would express the opinion that the RGP are shirking their responsibilities when it comes to tackling the Spanish fishermen, when the honest truth is that the situation is not as clear cut or straightforward as many would assume at first.
Take for example the technicalities of the actions committed by the Spanish Fishermen.
They have undoubtedly contravened the Nature Protection Act of 1991, but the previous existence of a Fishing Agreement undoubtedly left a grey area over whether or not to enforce the existing Act, or wait for an amendment. The current Chief Minister made clear last week that draft legislation is currently being considered in this aspect. Without going into too much detail, this interferes with priority number 1 as outlined earlier, however it is good to see that it is being addressed.
Another aspect is the resource the RGP has at their disposal to enforce our laws at sea. The recent arrivals of the new policing vessels would have undoubtedly aided in this aspect, however one must always ensure that all the personnel who use these resources are adequately trained and prepared for a number of predictable scenarios - this takes time. It would seem that priority number 2 is still being worked on and will constantly evolve to match the requirements of the situation faced as well as the priorities of the RGP.
Priority number 3 states that there should be no political intervention with regards to the exercising of policing duties. Regrettably this has happened in the past and indeed is occurring at this moment in time. The Spanish Government is keen to depict a twisted story to the world of the poor helpless (but defiant) fisherman, suddenly being told he cannot fish in the waters he has fished all his life and being harassed by ‘British Bobbys’. Annoyingly, there is always the added statement of this happening in ‘Spanish waters’, which flies completely in the face of the historical facts as well as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Let us not forget that the Governor also called for restraint from all sides in the dispute, and praised the professionalism shown by the RGP.
WHAT SHOULD THEY BE DOING?
In an ideal scenario, the RGP would be able to enforce the Nature Protection Act in our territorial waters, with all the resources it requires and with no interference from the political machinations of Spain. Unfortunately this is currently not the case. They have recently only been able to ask the Spanish Fishermen to leave (some will comply, while others refuse to comply and act defiantly).
I am sure the RGP are more than capable of arresting / seizing Spanish Fishing vessels – the question is whether they should do so or not, considering the long term implications and consequences of such a move (remember the Piraña incident). The RGP should never be put in a precarious situation where they are ‘damned if they do damned if they don’t’.
What is needed from a Gibraltar perspective is a push not only in amending the NPA or bringing in new legislation through parliament, but also in ensuring that the RGP are able to carry out their duties without interference from the Guardia Civil. The RGP have already exceeded their mandate by risking their lives on numerous occasions to prevent GC exercising jurisdiction in BGTW. This is not their job; however I feel I must congratulate them for their heroic efforts to date.
I am always very clear as to what the RGP should NOT be doing: by tackling the Spanish Fishermen the RGP are risking their lives for the sake of Spain’s clear wish to escalate the current conflict. By this, I mean that it is certainly not the job of our Royal Gibraltar Police to tackle the Guardia Civil, which is undoubtedly part of Spain’s plan. The GC is an armed military force, sent on the premise that they are protecting Spanish citizens in Spanish waters. No matter how much this annoys us in Gibraltar, the epic failure by the EU (and the UK representative who was present and approved the listing) to grant a level of responsibility over the management of our waters to Spain has inadvertently given Spain some tangible hope (the most it has had in 300 years) in bolstering and furthering its claim on our homeland. Surely the powers that be could have seen that one coming…
In my honest opinion, the RGPs main maritime efforts should be focussed on tackling and deterring any form of contraband activity within our Territorial Waters. If there is any external military force (GC) preventing the RGP exercising their duty, then that is the job of the Royal Navy and the UK to tackle. This is why it is so disheartening to see that the current maritime dispute has become the singular scope for which many in Gibraltar assess the hard work of the RGP. We Gibraltarians need to stop pointing the finger of blame at each other – it’s time to point the finger at the Madrid Government where it should have always been aimed.
I hope many reading this article will join me in thanking the RGP for their constant hard work in protecting our homeland and upholding the law. Remember that the RGP is just as frustrated as the rest of Gibraltar with the current dispute – we are on the same side and must not lose focus; for it is only when we stand as one that we can emerge victorious.
Tune in next week for A CALL FOR CALMER WATERS – PART 3: THE UK - STUCK BETWEEN A ROCK AND A ROCK
By Gareth Gingell
Chairman and Spokesperson for the Defenders of Gibraltar