7 June 2007 Edition
Policing : Republicans open up new site of struggle
Just the beginning
Speaking to PADDY McDAID, Sinn Féin spokesperson on policing and justice ALEX MASKEY MLA, says that in joining the North’s Policing Board, republicans have entered a new theatre of struggle but that much work must be done to achieve a fully accountable and representative civic policing service.
At the beginning of February Mitchel McLaughlin wrote, ‘The only remaining power base of the unionist state structures that republicans had not taken power in is policing and justice’.
On Thursday past the last power base of the unionist state began to crumble when Sinn Féin’s Alex Maskey , Martina Anderson and Daithi McKay, along with Derry republican Gearoid O’hEara, acting upon the overwhelming mandate given to them by Sinn Féin delegates and the general public, opened up a new site of struggle for republicans by taking up seats on the Policing Board.
“This is day one for republicans”, explained Alex Maskey. “We have stepped across a threshold that republicans have never crossed before into a new theatre of struggle, and we will only be limited in what we can achieve in this struggle by ourselves. However, as with any strategy we must be clear about where we want to go and what we wish to achieve. We must also be very clear about the situation that we find ourselves in at present”.
The decision by delegates at the Extraordinary Ard Fheis held on 28 January to endorse the Ard Chomairle motion on Policing came on the back of intense consultation. The nationalist experience of policing in the Six Counties is clearly a bad one. The key to where we want to go with policing lies within the Ard Chomhairle motion.
“We were mandated to ‘support civic policing through a police service which is representative of the community it serves, free from partisan political control and democratically accountable’. This is where we want to go, this is what we want to achieve”.
“And where are we at present? Recent reports by the Police Ombudsman make it clear to all that we currently have a policing service in which individuals who were responsible for collusion hold senior positions. The direction being given by former RUC and PSNI members to current members not to co-operate with inquiries is one example of how those who directed and prosecuted Britain’s dirty war are still influencing current serving officers. On a day-to-day level the PSNI aren’t delivering effectively in dealing with crime and anti-social behaviour at a local level. In our view the Policing Board’s record of working with the Police Ombudsman has been poor; the Board needs to be more pro-active in instilling a human rights based ethos within policing, and it has failed to work adequately with outside bodies with an interest in equality and human rights.
“Republicans should be under no illusion, passing the Ard Fheis motion, and our taking up our seats on the Policing Board is only the beginning of this process. We have a lot of work to do before we achieve the fully accountable and representative civic policing service. There are those who see their policing role as maintaining the status-quo and they wish to use the board to block progressive and radical change. These are the conditions which we have to work in”.
As republicans we make no excuses for wanting progressive and radical change; we are about challenging the status-quo at every opportunity. And we are confident that we now have the tools to make the necessary progressive and radical changes.
“There are many within the establishment who fear our involvement in the policing structures. They are right, because we intend to root out the human rights abusers, we continue to work with the families of those who were killed as a result of collusion, the issue of plastic bullets needs addressed, we want an unarmed police service and we intend to ensure MI5 is kept out of civic policing. We intend to address the reasons why new recruits are dropping out feeling that the culture and ethos of the present PSNI still mirrors that of the RUC.
“All of this is not limited to serving officers. Civilian appointments must also be equality proofed and representative of the communities that they serve in if they are to have the confidence and respect of that community. We are also intent on building upon the All-Ireland dimension to policing by linking up with other Party members who hold similar positions within the policing structures in the 26 counties.
“The tools which are now at our disposal are wide and varied. Republicans not only sit on the Policing Board but also sit on the six sub-committees. These committees have the power to deal with issues as wide and varied as overseeing and implementing the annual policing plan, implementation of changes recommended by the Oversight Commissioner or other external reports, dealing with appointments, dismissal and terms and conditions of employment, dealing with matters referred to the Board by the Police Ombudsman, overseeing equality and human rights policies and practices, monitoring the implementation of policing with the community, oversee and monitor police service strategies as they impact upon community safety, promote community involvement in policing and community consultation and to review the police code of ethics. This list is by no means exhaustive, and a cursory glance highlights the many possibilities which exist for moving our agenda forward.
We now need to maximise public interest and participation. We want to get to the stage whereby local communities are telling the PSNI what they believe they should be doing within their communities. Through our participation within the Policing Board we are now in a key position to try and drive this agenda forward. Such engagement with the policing structures by the public is a key step to building more inclusive and representative policing structures.
None of this will happen unless all activists and local communities play a full role. We are currently working to draw up proposals which will ensure that Party activists have a key role to play in this new challenge. Republicans need to get organised, local communities will have to get organised.
“We have set ourselves a number of initial objectives on the Policing Board. We need to deal effectively with past injustices and in a way which victims of bad policing in the past can have confidence in. We need also to hold the Policing Structures to account and also ensure that they are representative of the community, and answerable to it. But crucially we need to be the architects shaping policing into the future.
“Our agenda is about empowering local communities. Republicans on the Policing Board intend to shape the future of policing and hold the PSNI to account. Republican activists everywhere have a key role to play in holding us, as Party representatives, to account. Republicans on the ground will be key to ensuring that local communities play a full role in creating a representative, civic, police service.
“Through our negotiations with the British Government we have prised the door open. Through our work as representatives on the Policing Board we have got our foot in the door and in the time ahead we intend to force that door open wider. Republican activists will have to ensure that local communities can get through that door.
“As I said earlier, the only thing that can limit what we can achieve in this struggle is ourselves”.