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27 July 2006 Edition

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CRJ will resist NIO bullying

BY LAURA FRIEL

The Community Restorative Justice Ireland co-ordinator Jim Auld has insisted the group will resist bullying tactics by the British government aimed at forcing the CRJ to co-operate with the PSNI.

New proposals announced this week by British Minister David Hanson suggest the PSNI must play a central role in community justice schemes as a condition of securing funding. But the minister stopped short of imposing compliance outright, seeking instead a period of consultation. Hanson announced a 12-week consultation period to try "to get it right".

But the new protocol now requires that schemes engage and have a direct relationship with the PSNI on all matters governed by the protocol. "The centrality of the police to the way in which schemes operate is non-negotiable", said Hanson.

There are currently 20 CRJ schemes operating in the North - 15 within nationalist areas and five within unionist areas. To date CRJ has been funded by an American charity but this is due to end later this year. Since its establishment in the north the CRJ has dealt with almost 7,000 case involving over 40,000 people. This compares with less than 300 cases dealt with by the British government funded Youth Conference Service.

Jim Auld said it was not within the gift of CRJ to make this decision because nationalist communities were not ready yet to work with the PSNI. The CRJ co-ordinator said tensions were still high over the controversial Orange Order parades and loyalists being escorted through nationalist areas by the PSNI.

"All evidence suggests there is still a huge sense of distrust in the PSNI. If the Policing Boards won't even challenge Hugh Orde on Mark Haddock, a loyalist serial sectarian killer recently exposed as working for Special Branch, there is something seriously wrong," said Auld.

"The CRJ will not be bullied into conforming. If we went ahead and decided to work with the PSNI and we didn't have the backing of the community it would be a death-knell for the organisation. That's the simple truth."

Sinn Féin General Secretary Mitchel McLaughlin has accused SDLP leader Mark Durkan of slavishly following an agenda set by the NIO securocrats. McLaughlin's comments come after Durkan joined forces with the British Conservative party to attack Community Restorative Justice schemes last week.

At a time when the sole focus needs to be on the DUP and their failure to engage in the political institutions the SDLP continue with their attacks on what are widely regarded as a progressive and valued community facility," said McLaughlin.

Last week the SDLP met with the leader of the British Conservative Party, David Cameron at Westminster to lobby against financial support for CRJ which Durkan described as leading to "state-paid vigilantes".

"If ever there was evidence that the SDLP have become part of the policing establishment and how far they have travelled from nationalist opinion in Ireland it is their effort to build an alliance with the British Tory party to prevent further necessary change,"said McLaughlin.

The SDLP's briefing against CRJ occurred as a secret report commissioned by the party was described the SDLP as 'weak' 'irrelevant' and 'whingeing'. The report, which was leaked to the media last week, suggested the only way forward for the party was to attempt to 'criminalize' Sinn Féin.

Attempts by the SDLP to equate CRJ with 'vigilantism' and 'paramilitarism' at the same time as talking up Sinn Féin support for CRJ is probably best understood in the light of the SDLP's proposed criminalisation strategy. No wonder Durkan finds himself allied to the British Tory Party and the DUP.

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