Thursday, June 29, 2006

Policing, Patten, And The Provos

The make or break time has come for Sinn Féin with regard to policing. For too long the party has adopted an ambivalent attitude to the reform of policing, and their continued boycott of the Policing Board and District Policing Partnerships is clearly anti-Patten.

In many discussions I have had, when I have called for Sinn Féin to join the Policing Board, the response from their supporters has generally taken a ‘but the Policing Board approved rubber bullets, what has the SDLP achieved in it’ angle. But surely their attitude is a self-fulfilling prophecy- by abstaining from the Policing Board, thus handing their seats to unionists, of course it is going to make it harder for nationalists to hold the police to account. It’s like Manchester United boycotting the FA Cup and then complaining that no Manchester teams ever get to the final.

No one is saying that policing is perfect, but that’s precisely why nationalists must use the new structures to improve the service the PSNI provides. Standing on the outside complaining will get us nowhere- just look at how long the RUC was allowed to continue without being held to account, no matter how much nationalists complained from the outside.

However, perhaps more important than Sinn Féin moving centrally to endorse the new structures, is the need to address the justice vacuum that now exists in many nationalist communities as a result of Sinn Féin discouraging engagement with the PSNI.

Crimes are going-on in nationalist areas, but all too often these go unreported. Sinn Féin has crudely tried to promote ‘restorative justice’ schemes as an alternative, but clearly there is nothing which can replace professional and forensically trained scene-of-crime officers. Especially given reports from the Rape Crisis Centre that a victim of rape was put into the same room as the alleged assailant during ‘investigations’ by restorative justice ‘practitioners’.

But let’s face it, Sinn Féin are more than ready to sign-up to policing. The political capital to be gained from being anti-PSNI has decreased immensely.

For instance, over on Slugger I mentioned that on the front page of the current edition of the Andersonstown News, Sinn Féin MLA Michael Ferguson complains that the PSNI have not lifted a local thug living in West Belfast.

Does that mean that Sinn Féin supports the PSNI going into republican areas to arrest alleged criminals? If so, is that de facto support of policing, thus rendering their boycott of Patten-linked bodies such as the Policing Board and DPPs pointless? After all, it would be incongruous for a politician to criticise police inaction unless they recognise the legitimacy of that force to take such action in the first place. Likewise, if they opposed the PSNI taking action, then they wouldn’t be complaining about it not having taken place.

Also, does Sinn Féin support similar decisive action against people who are/ may have been linked to, the provisional movement, e.g. extortionists?

Surely it is time for Sinn Féin to give some direction to its followers on this issue. At the minute, there is clearly a recognition that utilisation of the PSNI is the only way to secure justice for victims of crime in republican areas. Why not put that recognition to full effect by backing Patten and the bodies it establishes? After all, the whole community will be the ultimate beneficiaries of such a move.

Sinn Féin knows that endorsement of Patten is inevitable. There is no ideological reason for boycotting the new policing arrangements. There is no jurisprudential reason for boycotting the new policing arrangements.

I’ll readily admit that perhaps the SDLP did not sell its engagement with the new policing structures as well as it should have to the nationalist electorate. Whilst canvassing, people have raised concerns about policing, but when I explained that the SDLP’s aim is to get in there and try to make sure the PSNI does its job, rather than ineffectually standing on the outside complaining, they have agreed that it is the best route to take.

The SDLP’s position is clear- engage with the police and make it fully representative of the community. Sinn Féin’s position is in a current state of flux and will remain this way until decisive action is taken by its leadership. In the meantime, victims of crime in republican areas are often left with no way of bringing to justice those who committed said crimes.

Nationalist engagement with the new structures should not be about supporting the police per se- they should be about supporting policing, and an essential part of this is holding the police to account. The only way to do this is through the Patten structures- the sooner Sinn Féin admits to this, the better.

The question is not if, but when.

[By the way, the picture above of Gerry Adams as Chief Constable is a mock-up. For now...]


Anonymous said...

I am having difficulties registering and will have to use the anonymous button but my name is andy and I would like a response.

You talk about accepting the current policing structures as the way forward, as the SDLP has done. The current policing structures while broadly acceptable have a key and fatal flaw, ie that at the head of them is the British Secretary of State and the NIO, until that ends the real power over policing and justice still remains with the NIO not the Policing Board. This allows for the perpetuation of political policing and old agendas. This is the key factor that needs to be addressed at this time and one which the SDLP have overlooked. The Policing Board are but one corner of a tripartite management structure of policing, the real power still remains elsewhere.

El Matador said...


Thanks for dropping by. I can't speak on behalf of anyone but myself, but here are my thoughts on your points.

You said: "at the head of them is the British Secretary of State and the NIO, until that ends the real power over policing and justice still remains with the NIO not the Policing Board"

I agree that this is not desirable. In Patten it says that power over policing (excluding issues of 'national' security) should be handed-over to the Executive as soon as possible. But as you and I both know, there simply is no executive- the onus is on the DUP and SF to agree to form one with the SDLP and UUP. It is only then that policing power can be handed-over.

So while we still haven't reached the natural conclusion of Patten, is it not better to make the most of what we have until such a time? I don't see it as selling-out or accepting anyhting less- it is simply pragmatism. And indeed, it is consistent with Patten- after all he said control should be passed 'as soon as possible'- it simply isn't possible at the current time as the Executive to whom the power will be devolved does not exist. Therefore, we must work within the provisions of Patten until such a juncture.

The role of the British Government in policing is to no-one's advantage- after all, you may recall the UUs threatening to boycott the PB recently as they were not happy at Hain's appointments. Untimately they reneged, as they realised that they could do better work on the inside that on the outside. If SF continue to boycott the policing arrangements, it is the people who lose out. Again, Hain is supposed to consult the FM and DFM on appointments to the PB- there is no FM or DFM, therefore he is free to choose who he wants- that is the fault of the politicans here, as they cannot form an executive. Hain is simply taking advantage of the parties' inability to agree to govern.

To improve policing here, we need to take a two-pronged approach- firstly, engage with the new policing institutions to maximise the slightly fettered powers to which we are entitled, and secondly, form a functioning Executive to expedite the devolvement of greater local control over policing.

SF are as much to blame for slowed progress on policing as anyone else, the British Government included. That is why I am calling for them to take decisive action to address this, both by engaging with the policing structures, and by forming an Executive (albeit with other parties also having to step up to the mark regarding the latter).

Anonymous said...

First of all el mat, as well know, it is not that SF and the DUP cannot agree to form an Executive it is the DUP who is blocking everyone else from forming an Executive.

It was only SF boycotting of the present arrangements, while the Brits wannted them in and a series of negotiations over recent years that clawed back the damage that Peter Mandelson had done to the Patten recommendations. The fact that the nationalist concensus was broken by the SDLP, for narrow party political interests, that made that job harder and more drawn out. However that powers of the policing Board have now been increased as has the powers of the police ombudsman as well as a raft of other recommendations in Patton that Mandelson had removed. The final, but substantial, element that needs addressed is the repatriation of powers, I accept that until there is an executive then there is no body to transfer to but the two Governments will need to be thinking of structures of Governance in a plan B scenario that could recieve such powers. By the way are the SDLP happy that 'all national security issues' (what ever that means) remain with London?


El Matador said...


I know it's primarily the DUP who is up to its usual tricks- I was just making the point that it isn't just the British Government who are to blame for the tardiness of policing devolution. If politicans here can't provide the necessary Executive to which powers would be devolved, then they can hardly complain.

"It was only SF boycotting of the present arrangements, while the Brits wannted them in and a series of negotiations over recent years that clawed back the damage that Peter Mandelson had done to the Patten recommendations."

Can you provide documentary evidence to back these claims? And if they did 'claw back' so much, how come they are still boycotting the structures?

"The fact that the nationalist concensus was broken by the SDLP, for narrow party political interests, that made that job harder and more drawn out."

Couple of points- firstly, the SDLP was the biggest nationalist party in the Assembly at the time of the introduction of the new policing arrangements. Secondly, all the main southern parties, the GAA and the Catholic Church all support engagement with the new policing structures, so actually it is SF (and its more violent offshoots such as the 32 CSC) which were and are in breach of the nationalist consensus on the issue. The SDLP is riding with the tide of nationalist opinion across the island.

"By the way are the SDLP happy that 'all national security issues' (what ever that means) remain with London?"

As far as I am concerned, national security for the island of Ireland should in an ideal world lie solely with the Government of Ireland. However, as you may be aware, the GFA states that UK national security issues are an excepted power, thus they remain with the Parliament at Westminster. No matter what you or I may think of that, it's part of the GFA.

In essence, as I said before- it's better to be in there fighting for better policing for nationalists, rather than standing on the outside complaining and getting nowhere, effectively letting unionists speak on one's behalf.

Anonymous said...

The documentary evidence is contained in the new legislation since the Police Act 2000 The mandelson Bill. The SDLP, in the shape of Seamus Mallon and everyone else said that amending legislation was not achievable and that the British Government would not relent. The did relent, but before the amending legislation was published the SDLP broke ranks to form the policing board. The legislation turned out to be flawed and at Weston Park as well as the negotiations leading up to it SF demanded a new Police Act which was finally secured. This is when the Policing Board recieved increased powers and independance as did the Office of the ombudsman. You cannot hold the police to account and make the changes necessary to redress the legacy and continuation of bad policing and political policing unless you have the legislative framework to it, you can complain and jump up and down on the policing board all you like. Political policing is a huge issues for republicans because in the main we are the victims of it as are our communities. But with the conspiracy that led to the fall of Stormont all of us are victims and we dealing with that difficulty to this day. Without the genuine power to deal with the substantial remanants of the old guard, who Hugh Orde and Jonty Brown have said exist and to a large part remain untouchable, then you cannot expect progress. We are quite close and agreement around the repatriation of powers is the key outstanding issue however that is managed.


Anonymous said...

Hear, hear, Andy! You have my support.

El Mat,

I believe Andy makes the better case on this one; all of the points he has raised need to be satisfactorily resolved.

El Matador said...


As I said, if the powers of the PB have been increased so much, how come SF continues to abstain? Surely the longer they hold off, the longer people in republican communities will not have a say in how the police is run, or indeed not be able to join its ranks. By definition that is going to retard development of the PSNI towards being more representative of the whole community.

"Political policing is a huge issues for republicans because in the main we are the victims of it as are our communities."

This is easy to say, but where is the evidence? How many Police Ombudsman's reports verify this? For instance, the former SF Mayor of Newry and Mourne complained during the week that he was stopped by police, who checked an electronic device he had pointed at them. It turned out that he had been stopped because he wasn't wearing a seatbelt, they looked at the device which apparently he used to pretend to take photographs, and when they found out it had no camera faciltity, they let him go on his way (with a £30 ticket for not wearing the seatbelt). Now SF claim this is 'political policing'. I would describe it as SF reps being treated as every other citizen should be. Why should an SF councillor not be stopped if he's not wearing a seatbelt?

"But with the conspiracy that led to the fall of Stormont all of us are victims and we dealing with that difficulty to this day."

What 'conspiracy'. We all know that the PPS dropped the case because of pressure from on-high. What does the fact that they dropped the case against British Spy Denis Donaldson prove except that it would be embarrassing for SF/British collusion to be exposed in open court?

As regards the remnants of the old guard- agreed, they should go. What has that got to do with SF boycotting the policing structures? Why not use the PB as a forum to highlight these problems and put the Chief Constable on the spot? Plus, do you not agree that it becomes harder to remove said old guard when SF won't recommend that nationalists should join up and replace them? Who is going to form the new PSNI and push up Catholic representation if people did what SF would tell them and refused to take part?

Do you not agree that if nationalists did what SF told them, then we would still have a police service which recruits solely from the unionist community and which is overseen by a PB which is exclusively unionist? How does this benefit nationalists? Do SF support the idea that we should stick with an RUC-style police service until we get everything we want?! Because that it what would be the outcome if nationalists refused to join- a Protestant police force for a Protestant people.

Thankfully plenty of nationalists aren't listening to SF, and are boosting the ranks of the PSNI to make it more representative.

As regards devolution, I don't know how many times I can repeat this, but policing powers cannot be devolved to an Executive that does not exist!

Anonymous said...

Increasing the powers and independance of the policing board was but one of the elements that needed to be won if a new beginning to policing was to be achieved. But it is not in itself enough, other equally important elements need addressed, if the balance of power between those who police and whose job it is to hold the police to account is to rectofied. The SDLP gave up on this as soon as they joined the policing board and are still refusing to exercise those new powers while on the board. For example, they could have called for an inquiry into police behaviour in Ardoyne on the day of the Whiterock riots last year but failed to do so.

political policing goes way beyond some SF councillor getting stopped for not wearing his seatbelt, and I think you know that. The deliberate leaks of so called intelligence at crucial times in the peace process, the attempts to frame and damage Francie Brolly for the Claudy bombing, the TV raid on Stormont as part of a longer and more extensive conspiracy to bring down the institutions. Whatever I say about this at this stage will probably be dismissed as republican propoganda but, as with collusion which for years was also dismissed, the facts about this will eventually come out. You seem to bought the line that it was embarrassment over Donaldson.

The SDLP arguing that you need to be in there is fair enough, if you can genuinely change things, but the SDLP jumped at a point were they had no real power to change anything and much of the power still rests with the Brit SoS and Westminister, this needs addressed. If powers cannot be desolved to an executive, because there isn't one, then they need to create a structure to which they can be devolved, because the perpetuation of political policing and the continuation of their war against republicans needs to be brought to an end before our communities can genuinely engage.


El Matador said...


You have failed to answer my questions. Where are the Police Ombudsman's reports which verfiy your claims about political policing? Where are the successful compensation claims for wrongful arrest etc.? Put it this way, would your claims stand up in court?

Let's face it- policing has changed. You know it. It's about time SF admitted this.

"Because the perpetuation of political policing and the continuation of their war against republicans needs to be brought to an end before our communities can genuinely engage."

At a time when many are remembering the tens-of-thousands of Irishmen who fought in WWI, to describe the object of SF grumblings as 'war' is shameful. I'd imagine many of your collegaues who have seen the inside of a cell or been on the receiving end of loyalist (or indeed state) violence would also take issue with your liberal use of the word 'war'.

Jouno said...

Can we please sink once and for all this myth of the "TV raid" on Stormont?
One single UTV camera crew was in the building interviewing another MLA when the PSNI raid took place. The have confirmed that they were not tipped off about the raid by anyone. No other journalists were present and all footage shown of the raid consists of the same three shots taken by that single camera crew. During devolution there were always reporters in Stormont - the surprise about the day of the raid is that there were so FEW cameras in attendance.

El Matador said...


That's a valid point. Indded, Barbie was spotted on camera being 'shocked'- was she tipped-off by the PSNI or did she just happen to be there like the TV cameras.

After all, where is the Police Ombudsman's report censuring the police for tipping-off the TV cameras? Answer: it doesn't exist.

Anonymous said...

Hi El Mat. I must say that the picture of The Chief (provo) Constable is the spitting image of 'They Haven't Gone Away You Know' Whats his name?

Anonymous said...

What a MESS policing would be in if god forbid Adams was The Chief Constable.