Dr Richard Martin, Postdoctoral Fellow, Bonavero Institute of Human Rights, Faculty of Law, Oxford
Human rights are a defining feature of how the Police Service of Northern Ireland has been ‘imagined and made’ in this post-conflict society. This paper invites you into the realm of routine policing to explore how frontline officers receive, interpret and apply human rights norms in their everyday work. The focus is on the ‘dirty work’ of the PSNI’s Tactical Support Group (TSG). The TSG is known infamously within some communities as the ‘bully boys’ or ‘riot squad’, linked to its paramilitary appearance and the types of work it performs – from searching messy premises for drugs, to counterterrorism patrols and policing contentious parades. I adopt Checkel’s notion of ‘socialization’ as a general framework for exploring how officers have internalised the official rights narrative promoted by the PSNI. With this conceptual scaffolding in place, I deploy Hughes’ concept of ‘dirty work’ to capture the occupational setting in which TSG officers are making sense of human rights. Based on extensive fieldwork with the TSG, the paper identifies and seeks to offer answers to a series of important, but rarely asked, questions: What appearance did human rights take? When did officers hear about it or see it, and why? How did they understand and interpret human rights norms? What counter-narratives animated their work and how did these impact on how human rights was perceived as a normative vision for policing and as a standard of legal regulation?