4 March 2004 Edition
Policing is a battle-a-day
BY FERN LANE
Addressing the Ard Fheis on one of the key issues of the Peace Process, Sinn Féin's spokesperson on policing, Gerry Kelly, MLA for North Belfast, said that the desperately needed new beginning to policing in the Six Counties could only be achieved if outstanding issues on the matter were urgently addressed.
It is no wonder, he said, that republicans have put the issue of policing at the core of negotiations, particularly when one considers that "the RUC was established as a partisan, political, Protestant and paramilitary police force. Its raison d'etre was as an instrument of political repression, counter-revolution and terror."
It was also the case, he said, that in acknowledgement of the failures of the past, all the parties to the Good Friday Agreement had accepted the need for a reformed police force. The Patten Commission was set up to formulate that new beginning, but the British Government, with the support of the SDLP, consistently refused to implement the Patten Report, pushing through legislation which substantially diluted its 175 recommendations.
Critical to a new beginning to policing and justice, said Kelly, is the issue of transfer of powers to Ireland "because it is the only way that control of policing and justice can ultimately be wrested out of the hands of British securocrats in London and the NIO who have run policing as a paramilitary force for generations". Without such a transfer of power, he said "policing and justice will remain unaccountable and a tool of repression".
Some of the other outstanding issues which also have to be resolved, he explained, include:
A ban on the use of plastic bullets.
A mechanism to account for plastic bullets fired by British Army personnel until a such ban comes into force,
The adequate resourcing of the office of the Police Ombudsman.
Addressing of the outstanding commitments to boost the number of Catholics in the part-time reserve.
The changes to the inquest system, negotiated by Sinn Féin in order to address the wholesale abuse of the system of the past.
The matter of emergency legislation which has not only not been repealed, but which has been strengthened by the present British Government.
The publication of the Cory Report and an acknowledgement, and then disavowal, of the policy of collusion and the dismantling of the state structures set up to facilitate this policy.
Given the resistance to change within the police force said Gerry Kelly, "policing is, and will continue to be, a battle a day. Policing is a site of struggle. We must bring the battle of ideas to our opponents and to the wider public."
Policing in the 26 Counties also needs to be addressed, he continued. "As we advance an agenda for change in the north, there is an imperative to devise and advance a complimentary agenda in the south. There is a policing and justice deficit on the island of Ireland. The gap needs to be filled. All the people of Ireland want a new beginning to policing and justice and Sinn Féin is the only party with the leadership and elected representatives, North and South, to advocate, legislate and agitate for that all-Ireland vision."
To those who accuse republicans of being against policing, Gerry Kelly had this to say. "Let me be clear. Those who have suffered from bad policing want proper policing more than anyone else. That includes me, the parents of Holy Cross, the residents of Short Strand or North Belfast or South Armagh or Tyrone, sex crime victims, drugs victims, car-crime victims, victims and survivors of collusion and all the others who want a better way of life and justice on an equal footing."
And whilst the unionist community is fearful of losing its police force, he continued, republicans also have their fears regarding a new beginning to policing. "We fear getting it horribly wrong," he said. "Our whole lives have been in rebellion against a police force in rebellion against us.
"But nobody said it would be easy. As political activists we must rethink strategically, debate strategically and decide what is best for our party, for the cause we represent and, most importantly, for the people we represent.
"There will be no force within a force when we are finished. We will accept nothing less than the entitlements of people to have a community police service representative, accountable and free from partisan political control.
"No-one should be bigger than justice and certainly not the police force. I call on this Ard Fheis and activists to support us in this very fundamental struggle for an enduring and All-Ireland justice system."