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11 November 2004 Edition

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No credibility - IMC and Policing Board report

Maura McCrory, whose son is one of the four men facing charges arising out of the alleged abduction of Belfastman Bobby Tohill, is pictured at a picket outside Belfast High Court

Maura McCrory, whose son is one of the four men facing charges arising out of the alleged abduction of Belfastman Bobby Tohill, is pictured at a picket outside Belfast High Court

The International Mon-itoring Commission has no credibility within the broad nationalist and republican community and the contents of the latest IMC report are of little interest to it, said Sinn Féin's spokesperson on Justice Gerry Kelly after the publication of the IMC's third report last week.

As with earlier publications by the IMC, the latest report was based on unchallengeable speculation provided by shadowy figures in MI5, British Military Intelligence and Special Branch, "organisations opposed to the Peace Process and the Good Friday Agreement", said Kelly.

"Previous reports have already been exposed as riddled with inaccuracies and propaganda peddled by people who hope by criminalising republicans through the IMC, Sinn Féin's role in the political process can be marginalised. History has already shown that such a strategy is doomed to failure.

"The focus of Sinn Féin at this time is to see the Good Friday Agreement implemented and we will not allow the IMC or anyone else to subvert that Agreement," said Kelly.

Predictably, the DUP, encouraged by the opportunity created by the IMC, continued to pursue their anti-Agreement agenda by calling for the British Government to "get tough" with Sinn Féin.

DUP leader Ian Paisley claimed the IMC report vindicated their stance. "There must be a complete end to terrorist and criminal activity," said Paisley. And who are those tasked with declaring when such a "complete end" has been achieved? Well, of course, Paisley himself, Special Branch and the IMC.

In other words, it will be the job of some of the most reactionary anti-Agreement elements within the Six Counties to adjudicate the participation of the largest elected pro-Agreement party in the North and the largest pro-active Agreement party in the South. In your dreams, Mr Paisley.

And even if there ever was a day that dawned when Paisley could bring himself to declare such a "complete end", it would have to be "verified over a period of time" while the DUP and other anti-power sharing unionist groupings pondered all the possibilities and potential for conflict they could dream up in their anti-republican fantasy island.

"There will be no compromises with terrorists," declared Paisley. Of course, for unionists to dismiss their political opposition as "terrorists" is a gross distortion of the history of partition, imposed by terror, built on sectarian division and maintained by jackboot repression. Add to this the blatantly sectarian rabble rousing contribution to conflict indulged in by Ian Paisley himself over the last 30 years and you are only beginning to scrape the surface of the inherent hypocrisy expressed by such rhetoric.

The IMC report had confirmed what people already knew, said Paisley. But in reality, all the IMC report represents is the repetition of complaints by one set of anti-republican elements by other anti-republican elements. The difference lies only in presentation and the unwarranted status it confers.

"Those who continually engage in these activities are not fit for government," said Paisley. If the Assembly and Executive were functioning, declared the IMC, it might have looked at moving to exclude Sinn Féin from the institution and (for appearances sake) the one elected member of the PUP. That's balance for you.

Deliver an artificially created anti-democratic unionist majority by excluding the largest nationalist party and one itsy bitsy unionist and we can all thank our lucky stars the north is no longer operating as a sectarian state. Does anyone really imagine northern nationalists are that gullible?

Meanwhile, an equally discreditable report has emerged from the Policing Board. The board had instructed its advisers to consider the actions of the PSNI after an illegal Orange parade was forced through nationalist Ardoyne last July 12th.

Despite a ruling by the Parades Commission, the PSNI pushed through 250 unionist paramilitary bandsmen along the bitterly contested route at the Ardoyne shops. The PSNI's decision resulted in clashes with local residents, a number of whom were injured. The political outcry that followed promoted an examination of the PSNI's operational tactics.

But the 75-page report released by the Police Board last week did not make a single reference to the UDA. The report did not mention the presence of leading members of the UDA amongst the crowd of loyalists escorted through the nationalist Ardoyne by the PSNI.

Instead, the report focused on exonerating the PSNI. Clearing the PSNI of all blame for the ensuing violence, barristers appointed by the Policing Board, vindicated the operation.

"We are satisfied that the PSNI properly took all the relevant factors into account in deciding that they could not lawfully exercise their breach-of-the-peace powers to prevent the group of followers/supporters from moving up the contentious part of the route," said barristers Keir Starmer and Jane Gordon.

The reason behind the failure to mention the presence of the UDA becomes clearer as the report concludes. An earlier judicial review had suggested the ruling by the Parades Commission on the routing of the Orange march did not have jurisdiction over those accompanying the march. It's a fine and very silly distinction.

According to the court ruling, the Parades Commission's jurisdiction over Orange marches does not encompass all those marching but stops with Orangemen. So, if you're a member of an Orange Lodge and are marching in the full regalia, you are subject to restrictions by the Parades Commission, but if you're a member of the UDA and are marching in support of the Orange Order, then you can do whatever you damn well like.

So the PSNI, faced with 250 Orange supporters rather than members, cannot enforce the Parades Commission's decision but must rely on breach of the peace legislation. It must decide if allowing a parade of 250 Orange supporters through a nationalist area is likely to cause a breach of the peace. If it does, the parade can be stopped, dispersed or rerouted. It's all down to 'judgment' and the potential 'behaviour' of the crowd.

"It follows that the PSNI decision to allow the followers/supporters up the contentious part of the route was lawful because their judgement that the behaviour of the followers/supporters did not justify holding them for a prolonged period-cannot be faulted," concluded the report.

Clearly, the Policing Board barristers can only find the PSNI's judgement flawless and their actions blameless if they ignore the presence of unionist paramilitaries within the crowd. If you don't ignore that, you might have to question the judgement of a force that decided that parading sectarian killers through an estate where many of their victims and victims' families lived did not present a clear indication of a likely breach of the peace.

North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly said the Policing Board's omission of a UDA presence "speaks volumes". The report held no surprises for the nationalist community in north Belfast, he said.

"Sinn Féin said from the start that the call for the report was in order to keep the SDLP on the Policing Board. At the time, a prominent member of the SDLP, Martin Morgan, suggested that his party should reconsider its position. The report was no more than a damage limitation exercise for the SDLP

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