10 March 2005 Edition
Catch yourself on, Hugh Orde
BY FERN LANE
Opening the key debate on policing on Sunday, Sinn Féin's Policing and Justice spokesperson, Gerry Kelly, told the Ard Fheis that for generations the police force in the Six Counties had been a "partisan, political, Protestant and paramilitary force" which had been used as an "instrument of political repression, counter-revolution and terror".
For any Peace Process to succeed, he continued, all of that had to "change so radically that the old regime will be unrecognisable in the new beginning to policing which republicans are striving for". This need for an utterly changed police force, he said, was the reason why Sinn Féin had made the issue central to negotiations with the British Government.
And critical to the potential for a new beginning, he said, is the wresting of the control of policing and justice out of the hands of British securocrats within the NIO, those people who have run the RUC as a politicised and paramilitary force for decades. Without such a transfer of power into an all-Ireland context, through the all-Ireland institutions, "policing and justice will remain a tool of repression".
Alongside the overarching issue of the transfer of power, said Kelly, many other policing and justice issues remain unresolved. For example, a key Sinn Féin requirement is for an outright ban on the use of, often lethal, plastic baton rounds and in the meantime for a comprehensive system to be put in place in order to make British Army personnel genuinely accountable for any rounds which they fire.
Another issue is the failure of the British Government to set up an independent inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane, and a third its failure either to properly acknowledge the full extent of collusion or to dismantle the structures under which it flourished.
Kelly commended those who, in the absence of an accountable police force grounded in a human rights ethos, work on the ground to create safer communities through anti-car crime schemes, youth outreach programmes, and especially community restorative justice projects. "They are doing a greater service to working-class nationalist areas than the policing and justice system has ever done," he said.
He concluded by telling delegates that Sinn Féin's opposition to the current policing and justice system was not a matter of timing or tactics. Instead, he said, "it is a matter of integrity and our inalienable rights.
"It is a justice and policing system for the people we will achieve, not for the privileged few or the brown envelope brigade. Hugh Orde needs to know that he is not the justice minister in the North. We as republicans will not be part of the police force which is involved in collusion, we will not be part of a police force which protects human rights abusers, or drugs barons, or sectarian murderers simply because they are state agents.
"There will be no force within a force when we are finished. We will create a new policing service which will serve the whole community throughout Ireland. We will have a service which is representative, accountable and free from partisan political control."
Also speaking in the debate was Aengus Ó Snodaigh, who told delegates that policing outside the North was also failing. "Just look at Special Branch in the 26 Counties," he said. "They continue to operate at virtually the same strength as prior to the cessation; meanwhile, communities are crying out for help in tackling the spiralling drugs crisis.
"Special Branch men and women are planting bombs, torturing suspects, tampering with evidence, committing perjury and much much more. This is in a state which has enjoyed relative peace for over 80 years. It's not good enough."
Speaking against motions to withhold Sinn Féin support for any policing arrangements until there is a declaration of intent to withdraw from Ireland by the British Government and until there is a "united, free and independent Ireland", Declan Kearney, said that, whilst he understood the sentiment behind the motions, policing was a site of struggle for republicans in any political context.
"We have all stood on the roadside," he said. "We have sat in the barracks and we have all seen what these people can do, have done and may well continue to do. But policing has always been and will remain a battleground and absolutist positions don't work. They miss the point. Republicans have to come at this from a strategic point of view.
"So let us put the key political question. How and when is Hugh Orde going to properly face down the political detectives in his system? Because the evidence to date suggests that he has not, and he might not be able to."
Republicans, he said, are not the obstacle to proper policing. "The fact of the matter is, the Branch men who ran operations in the 1980s and 1990s and colluded in the killing of nationalists, are now the people who run the crime departments in 2005. Catch yourself on, Hugh Orde."