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28 September 2000 Edition

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British bowing to unionists on RUC

The familiar sight of a British Secrtary State engaging in carefully crafted double-speak was in evidence again on Monday, when Peter Mandelson addressed the British Labour Party Conference.

Mandelson made an ill-disguised demand that the nationalist community in the Six Counties allow itself to be made responsible for rescuing David Trimble - and possibly even the entire UUP - from political oblivion, by agreeing to the retention of a discredited sectarian police force.

Mandelson pleaded that there be more ``give and take'' on the Patten Report, overlooking the fact that agreement by nationalists to Patten at all has represented a huge amount of ``give'' on their part.

The speech was also the clearest signal yet that Tony Blair's government considers saving Trimble's political career to be the single-most important task confronting it, before Mandelson leaves Ireland to take up what he would consider to be a proper job back in London.

In the background NIO officials are busy warning that, should nationalists fail to cede more ground to the UUP demands on the RUC, the party could completely withdraw its support for the Good Friday Agreement and thus that it would meet the same fate as Sunningdale.

In this context Mandelson's statement, that if, in order to save the Agreement, ``that means sacrificing a little of your own interests in order to keep others on board, so be it'', could hardly be interpreted as being in any way addressed to the leader of the UUP. A more obvious interpretation is that the request for self-sacrifice was an implicit threat from the Blair government to Sinn Féin, the SDLP and the Dublin government.

For all that however, Tony Blair's Secrtary of State was not to be prevented from claiming, and clearly expecting nationalists and republicans to believe him, that the slightest of superficial tinkerings with the RUC represents a commitment to the full implementation of the Patten Report. It has taken Sinn Fein's sub-committee on policing more than 30 pages to point out all the discrepancies between what is required by Patten and what is actually offered in the new police bill.

Not content with advancing this absurd contradiction, Mandelson offered up another. Whilst reassuring the RUC's most unyielding defenders that the force ``will not be air-brushed out of history'', he also apparently regards it to be acceptable that the victims of its history of abuse of power, corruption, brutality, violations of human rights, collusion and downright murder, be obliterated from the record.

It didn't end there. The Security Minister Adam Ingram, it transpires, is to lead a new confiscations agency charged with seizing the assets of what Mandelson referred to in his speech as the ``rump of paramilitarism'' and a ``mafia-like virus'' infecting society.

This new agency will be responsible for the seizure of ``non-cash assets'' such as land, property and businesses if such assets are considered to be generating or laundering money for ``paramilitary organisations''. Its practical enforcement is liable to be placed in the hands of an unreconstructed RUC, whose energies are no more likely than they have ever been to be directed against loyalist gangsters.

Once more, the British government seems to believe that it can have it both ways. Mandelson will argue in some quarters that this initiative is aimed at the ever-increasing loyalist drugs trade including Johnny Adair and his associates in the lower Shankill Road.

However the British will conveniently avoid their own very direct responsibility for creating this mafia type culture within loyalism, through their organisation and direction, over a number of years, of the so-called UFF C Company, currently engaged in a scorched earth policy on the Shankill.

Loyalist drug dealers and gangsters are a creation of Britain's counter insurgency war Ireland, as is a heavily-armed, miltarised and sectarian-motivated RUC.
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