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9 September 1999 Edition

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RUC must go

Justice demands fresh start

 

The Good Friday Agreement is very clear on what is required in relation to a new policing service in the North. It has to be `capable of attracting and sustaining' support from all sections of the people.

Sinn Féin has told the Patten Commission that the RUC is not a police service and that its history, makeup, ethos and relationship with the nationalist and republican people make it totally unacceptable.

Since its foundation, the RUC has seen itself, and has acted as, the armed guardian of the Six-County statelet and its union with Britain and as the armed wing of unionism. The RUC has never been representative of the whole community nor accountable to it. The RUC and the criminal justice system under which it operates have been found guilty of violating the most basic international human rights principles.

After a year of taking submissions and listening directly to the public, many of whom have been victims of RUC violence, the Patten Commission has now produced a detailed report. Irish nationalists and republicans will need to be convinced that the Patten Report really is a `new beginning'. But what must be underlined at this point is that the RUC is not acceptable and that a repackaged RUC will be no more acceptable, nor will it attract any greater measure of support. Changes therefore, must be fundamental and include both symbols and substance.

This issue is critical for nationalists and republicans and requires the fullest and most considered response from everyone.

Sinn Féin has stated that it will study the Patten proposals carefully. The party will examine the report against the criteria set for it within the Good Friday Agreement and against the experience, demands and hopes of the nationalist and republican people. Uppermost in its considerations will be the desire for a proper, democratically accountable police service. Sinn Féin will seek to establish how far the Patten report goes towards achieving this goal.

Sinn Féin also intends to scrutinise the British government's position, bearing in mind its failure so far to implement critical sections of the Good Friday Agreement over which it has direct control.

In studying the Patten Commission's recommendations, Sinn Féin will engage in a wide-ranging internal discussion with party activists and supporters. Its representatives will talk to the community, to the victim support organisations, human rights groups and with the two governments.

On the eve of the report's publication, Sinn Féin said that in due course its Ard Chomhairle would decide on the party's formal and definitive response. The party urged everyone else interested in creating conditions for a lasting peace to similarly ``take a responsible approach and the necessary time to properly assess this report''.

One of the acid tests by which Patten will be judged will be whether or not nationalists and republicans feel confident eneough to become involved with and join whatever service emerges. No Irish nationalist will be rushing to join until absolutely convinced that they are participating in a new democratically accountable police service.

 

Patten must deliver a `New Policing Service'



By Gerry Adams

    
If Patten doesn't deliver on the promise of a new policing service in the Good Friday Agreement what does that then say about the integrity and credibility of the Agreement?
On Thursday morning, 9 September, we will know the outcome of the deliberations by the Patten Commission on Policing. No single issue, apart from decommissioning, has generated as much controversy and debate. No other single issue has succeeded in raising such diverse and opposite opinions, and no other issue will be scrutinised as closely as this one. For nationalists and republicans it is a touchstone issue. Patten must produce a new policing service.

No one should underestimate the difficulties facing republicans if the Patten Commission does not produce a new policing service. The RUC must go.
 
The Patten Commission had the difficult task of providing for a `new beginning to policing'. A policing service which is `capable of attracting and sustaining' support from all sections of our people.

For decades there were those, mainly unionists, British conservatives and the securocrats, who argued that there was nothing really wrong with the northern statelet. It was all the fault of a rebellious minority, of `terrorism', or a criminal conspiracy and that required nothing more than a robust security strategy to eliminate it. This they pursued relentlessly and ruthlessly using the entire legal and judicial apparatus of the state, including the paramilitary and pro-unionist RUC.

The Good Friday Agreement gives the lie to this view of our situation. To the outsider it is a spotlight focusing on what was and still is, wrong within the Six Counties. It covers the need for anti-discrimination legislation, for equality, for cultural rights, for democratic rights, for justice and demilitarisation, for constitutional and institutional change as well as the release of prisoners and of course a new beginning in policing

The Agreement was to have established political institutions and structures based on an entirely new approach. To overcome the sense of exclusion, and the deep-seated alienation of nationalists, these new institutions were to be based on three central elements:

The primacy of politics and the effective delivery of change through politics;

The sharing of power equally between unionists and nationalists in the north; and

Substantive all-Ireland institutions.

At this time the unionists have succeeded in blocking the establishment of the institutions. They have spurned power sharing, the creation of all-Ireland institutions, and are resisting change. There has also been precious little progress on any of the other areas of concern identified in the Good Friday Agreement. This fact and the importance of policing will ensure that there will be keen attention paid by nationalists and republicans to the Patten report. Will it tackle in a real way this difficult issue? Or are we to suffer another prevarication? And if Patten doesn't deliver on the promise of a new policing service in the Good Friday Agreement what does that then say about the integrity and credibility of the Agreement?

Nationalists in the north are not anti-police. On the contrary we want to be policed. The nationalist people are law abiding, decent people who want a police service they can trust, respect and join. But the RUC is not that police service. Our experience of that force is as part of a complex system of repression which routinely violates our human and civil rights, and which kills, tortures, harasses and imprisons men, women and children.

In recent months, the undisguised sectarianism of that force has been apparent again on our streets with the vicious assaults on peaceful protesters on the Ormeau Road. In Larne and elsewhere loyalist gangs face no opposition from the RUC in their nightly campaign of terror and intimidation against Catholic families. The RUC itself has been recently indicted by the UN over its treatment of lawyers, and its bigotry exposed in its dealings with, and the threats made by some of its members towards Rosemary Nelson. The issue of collusion, never far below the surface, re-emerged with renewed vigour around the Pat Finucane case, and the way in which the system constantly protects its own received some focus when no RUC members were charged despite a £30,000 compensation to a man brutally beaten by them.

All of this is just the tip of a very deep iceberg which goes back to the founding of the RUC in 1922. However, from the killing of Samuel Devenny in Derry in 1969, and the conspiracy of silence which surrounded and protected his murderers; through shoot-to-kill, collusion, obstruction of inquiries, plastic bullet deaths, torture, the framing and imprisonment of innocent people, intimidation and threats against lawyers, harassment and much more; we have watched as the RUC has evolved and developed into one of the most ruthless repressive and unaccountable state machines existing anywhere in the world. This is the nationalist and republican view of the RUC. It is one shared by human rights bodies around the world.

We are cognisant of the symbolism of the RUC to unionists. This has been frequently highlighted by unionist politicians. However, that cannot override the objective of establishing a policing service that can attract widespread support from across the community.

It is clear that the RUC is incapable of meeting that objective. Therefore, as Sinn Féin has consistently argued, there must be a genuinely new beginning.

A new dispensation, in which equality and democracy and partnership are supposed to be the principles underpinning a fresh start for the new century, demands a complete break with what has passed for policing here up to this point, and the creation of an entirely new and representative policing service.

There should be no underestimation of the difficulties which republicans have had to overcome to embrace the Good Friday Agreement.

Whatever emerges from the Patten Commission it would have been easier for all of us to deal with if the other parts of the Agreement were in place, as they should have been, by now. But the opposite is the case. That is why a review commenced this week. It is a review of the non-implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. Sinn Féin will be part of that review. We will bring a positive and forward thinking approach to these proceedings. But no one should underestimate the difficulties facing republicans if the Patten Commission does not produce a new policing service. The RUC must go.



RUC PR spin defies belief



BY FERN LANE

    
Its passionate, idolatrous attachment to outdated symbols of imperialism, monarchy and, crucially, unionist power stands in powerful contradiction to the latest RUC spin of earnest non-sectarian good intentions. In its dim-witted attempts to garner support, the RUC has succeeded in the difficult task of further damning itself
Just how stupid, exactly, are those members of the RUC and the various unionist parties who have spent the past three weeks becoming increasingly hysterical over the carefully orchestrated leaks from their friends in the NIO regarding Chris Patten's report on the reform of the RUC?

Phrases like ``betrayal of the RUC'', ``devastated morale'' and ``appeasement of terrorists'', emanating from the usual suspects and their media cohorts have, as it happens, precisely proved the point of those who recognise the RUC as the corrupt and sectarian force it is and want to see it go. Unionists' purple-faced outrage - David Trimble even issued his traditional one-size-fits-all threat to resign earlier this week if the Patten Report was implemented - probably says as much about what the RUC represents as the 15 months of public consultation which preceded the report.

Notwithstanding what Patten actually says, consider the substance of those recommendations which were leaked prior to publication and what they actually amounted to. The removal of the word ``Royal'' from the title and oath; the removal of the Union Jack and pictures of the Queen from RUC barracks; a degree of involvement by elected members of local communities; some kind of effort to recruit more Catholics. Big deal. But the RUC, in its clumsy attempts to win the sympathy vote, presented even these insubstantial, and in most cases merely cosmetic, changes as cataclysmic, causing personal and professional devastation to members of the force. This passionate, idolatrous attachment to outdated symbols of imperialism, monarchy and, crucially, unionist power - the former of which have, by the way, entirely disappeared from the English police force - stands in powerful contradiction to the latest RUC spin of earnest non-sectarian good intentions. In its dim-witted attempts to garner support, the RUC has succeeded in the difficult task of further damning itself. Officers who demand the right to, in effect, genuflect to the image of Queen Elizabeth and the red white and blue cannot, under any circumstances, claim to be impartial. The equally fervent defence of the force by unionists - proportionately greater the more extreme the unionist - needs no further comment save to say that in the very act of trying to save `their' RUC, they have condemned it - and themselves - still further as entrenched in a nasty little world of hatred and resistance to change.

Chris Ryder, a former member of the Police Authority, last week joined the PR offensive when he wrote sympathetically of the ``mighty oak'' of the RUC, and quoted one officer as saying: ``Whatever might have been the case in the past, nobody in this force has joined up to fight the IRA, defend the constitution or promote any political cause. When we put on our uniforms and go out on duty we leave our private beliefs and opinions behind. We uphold the law and deal with people impartially and we don't want to serve with anyone who doesn't''.

Oh, please. If this is not an outright, conscious lie, it is at the very least disingenuous nonsense. Any police force exists for no other reason than to defend the constitution of the state as expressed by its laws and prevailing ideology (however cruel or unjust), and that is what the RUC was created to do; to defend the unionist state and the unionist people. It has merely been doing its job.

That is why unionism refuses point-blank to relinquish the force in its present form. However, an important qualification to that point is that unionism also refuses to relinquish it because it understands that ultimately the RUC's attachment to the British state and constitution ends where this loyalty clashes with unionism's own narrow, sectarian interests, as evidenced in Drumcree in 1994.

Any finally, in amongst the oft-repeated statistics of officers killed and injured, the hundreds of innocent people for whose deaths the RUC is directly and indirectly responsible have rarely been mentioned. Neither has shoot-to-kill, collusion, torture, Pat Finucane, Rosemary Nelson, nor the inability of the British Government to sign up to the European Convention on Human Rights because of the activities of the RUC, the most heavily-censured police force in the western world. It will take some kind of PR spin to overcome the reality of all that.
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An Phoblacht
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