25 January 2001 Edition
DPP defends RUC thugs
BY CAITLIN DOHERTY
Once again the Six-County DPP has rallied to defend RUC misconduct. David Adams, ex-POW and a cousin of the Sinn Féin president, lost his legal battle last week to have RUC officers guilty of ``illegal behaviour''.
In 1998, Adams was awarded £30,000 in compensation after an attack dating back to 1994 when he was beaten up and badly brutalised by the RUC. The judge who made the award had ruled that the RUC had been guilty of ``illegal behaviour''. Following the ruling in his favour, Adams sought to have the ofending RUC officers charged but that quest enede last Friday, when the Six-County DPP's refusal to prosecute the RUC members involved in the attack was upheld by appeal court judges.
Adams had earler appealed in June for a judicial review of the decision and was turned down.
Sinn Féin Assembly member Alex Maskey described the decision as ``astonishing'' in the light of the damages awarded to Adams. ``Implicit in the decision to award compensation was an acknowledgement that the RUC violated the law and had a case to answer,'' said Maskey. ``How this can be reconciled with Friday's decision not to prosecute the RUC members responsible is beyond comprehension.
``The ruling merely serves to underscore the fact that the criminal justice system in the North of Ireland is hopelessly corrupt. If justice and fair play are to be guaranteed to citizens of this part of Ireland, the entire system will have to be comprehensively overhauled.''
RUC attack Sinn Féin youths
BY PEADAR WHELAN
Five Ógra Shinn Féin activists and a Sinn Féin councillor were assaulted by the RUC in an unprovoked attack last Tuesday, 16 January, at around 11pm.
The attack happened in a remote part of rural County Tyrone near the village of Greencastle, when the young people were blocked and hemmed in by a number of unmarked RUC cars.
According to the young people, they came across an unusually large force of heavily armed RUC officers as they drove to the home of Omagh Sinn Féin councillor Sean Clarke. Some of the RUC men had their faces `blacked up', they said.
Speaking at a press conference in Belfast last Friday afternoon, 19 January, Sinn Féin chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin told the media that the five may have happened upon an RUC undercover operation. Assembly member for the area Barry McElduff told reporters that ``the RUC is engaged in almost nightly surveillance operations at the homes of Sinn Féin elected representatives in the area in an attempt to intimidate those representatives and their constituents''.
McElduff said that he had raised the issue with Six-County security minister Adam Ingram. He said he told Ingram, ``if anything happens to me you know where to go to find those responsible''.
On the evening of the assaults, the five youths were travelling in a car driven by Seán Pól Begley to Greencastle to see Sean Clarke but when they arrived at the house they saw there were no lights on. The group drove on to a place where they could pick up a signal for a mobile phone to contact the councillor.
Driving on up the hill, they spotted a number of car lights and decided to investigate what was unusual activity in the area. As they closed in on the lights, they saw there were as many as 15 RUC members standing around a number of cars. According to Ronan McMahon, ``they were very heavily armed''.
When Seán Pól found a spot in the road to turn he did so and headed back towards Greencastle, but as he was driving back he noticed a car closing on him fast.
By this time, McMahon had made contact with Clarke and was talking to him when the following car sounded a siren and overtook their vehicle. Other RUC cars pulled up behind Seán Pól Begley's car, hemming them in.
An RUC man approached the car and told Begley to get out of the car and when the driver asked why he was punched on the face and called a ``stupid fenian bastard''.
Other RUC members had, in the meantime, surrounded the car. They verbally abused Majella McElduff, Emma McMahon and Claire McMahon (who are sisters but not related to Ronan), who were in the back seat.
Councillor Sean Clarke, who then arrived at the scene, was told to ``fuck off''.
The RUC men then dragged Begley from the car and beat him. He was forced to the ground where one of the squad knelt on his chest. He was kicked on the upper body and hit on the leg with a baton. They also attacked Clarke, knocking him onto the bonnet of the car.
When the others got out of the car to help they were also beaten. Claire McMahon was beaten about the head, knocked to the ground and kicked in the back.
To add insult to injury, Seán Pól Begley was subsequently arrested and taken to Omagh RUC barracks, where he was charged with obstruction and assaulting the RUC.
Out of step on policing
Archbishop KOs Irish News spin
BY LAURA FRIEL
The Irish News outraged many of its readers last week when it ran an editorial calling for the nationalist political parties, more specifically the SDLP, to tacitly accept Mandelson's meddling with the Patten Commission's proposals and accept their places on police boards.
In the past, The Irish News has used its editorial space to provide political cover for a shift in policy by the SDLP. Had it not been for the unexpected intervention of Dr Brady last week, a pathway might have been cleared to enable the SDLP to move swiftly over dangerous ground
It was a spurious piece of journalism which attempted to repackage the arguments to suit its own agenda. ``Perceptions of the RUC, its structures and its performance have largely depended on the constitutional position of the observer,'' ran the editorial, claiming that ``unionists often regarded the RUC as their own... nationalists tended to take a cooler view.'' A cooler view?
For the last 30 years, the RUC have raided the homes of nationalist families, harassed young nationalists on the streets, killed nationalist protesters with plastic bullets, tortured nationalist detainees in places like Castlereagh and Gough barracks, framed nationalist suspects, threatened nationalist defence lawyers, colluded with loyalist death squads and engaged in summary executions of republicans.
And most of these abuses have been well documented. The RUC's record is notorious not simply at home but also abroad. If northern nationalists hold a negative, even hostile, view of the RUC, it is because that is how they have experienced them. It's a perception grounded in the reality of life in the north.
And it's that reality that has to change and be seen to be changed. The Patten Commission, with its international dimension, tacitly acknowledged this by recommending fundamental changes in the future of policing in the north. Unfortunately, the British government appears to lack both the will and the imagination to meet the challenge, preferring to pander to the unionist veto.
Conveniently, the Irish News mentions almost nothing about abuses carried out in support of a one-party state and British occupation by its locally recruited armed militias. In a classic example of blaming the victim, the editorial focuses on resistance to state oppression, which is, of course, ``evil''.
``It is impossible to separate the general image of the RUC from the evil campaign of violence directed against individual officers by republicans,'' says The Irish News. Let's grasp the nettle. According to The Irish News, the desire for a new policing service, one that adheres to accepted international standards of behaviour and democratic accountability, is based solely on hostility towards the RUC.
Evaluation of the RUC is based solely on ``perceptions'' - nationalists hold ``views'' and unionists ``regard'' the RUC in certain ways but the fundamental problem is ``the enduring reluctance of Catholics to offer themselves as recruits in substantial numbers''. Moreover, ``church and political leaders, as well as senior RUC figures, have regularly acknowledged this was a set of circumstances which needed to be addressed''. The message is clear, if we ignore those `evil' republicans a consensus is waiting to emerge which will accept Mandelson's evisceration of the Patten proposals.
And anyway, there is no need to worry about the Patten Report and the findings of all those eminent experts. The British-appointed chair of the Commission, ex Tory cabinet minister and former British governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, has said everything is okay: ``Crucially, the author of the report ultimately concluded that what had been achieved was within the ``spirit of Patten''. While some members of the commission strongly agreed, and others took a more questioning stance, Patten's endorsement was of central significance.''
I suppose if it had been named the Policing, rather than the Patten Report we could have sought the endorsement of the RUC itself. The RUC Chief Constable could have assured us that Mandelson's Act was in keeping with the ``spirit of Flanagan''.
Of course, Patten's endorsement is only of central significance to The Irish News' tenuous line of argument, which in the event was exposed as royally as the Emperor in his new clothes. There is a consensus out there, but not the one trumpeted by The Irish News.
This consensus includes Catholic Primate Archbishop Sean Brady, who ``is not yet prepared to back the new policing arrangements'' reported the Newsletter. A number of roadblocks still existed but the church leader was hopeful they could be overcome.
The archbishop, whose stance came under unionist fire, said: ``We need patience, great patience. This prize has been a long time coming. Better get it right than get it quick.'' Unionists were angry and The Irish News was a little put out too.
``Fury over Brady's `no' to new police'' ran The Irish News front-page headline. The Catholic primate was ``under attack after withholding support for the planned new police service''. Unionists were ``infuriated'' but if The Irish News and elements within the SDLP were angry at having the rug pulled from beneath their feet, no one was saying so.
Brady's ``position was backed by the SDLP, which is resisting British government pressure to weigh in behind the new look force and take up seats on the Policing Board,'' reported The Irish News. Apparently the SDLP were, publicly at least, resisting pressure from The Irish News editor, who only two days before had declared it was ``time to sit on police boards''.
``Dr. Brady's assessment will be a blow for Secretary of State Peter Mandelson, who has been attempting to win over nationalists doubtful about the revamped service,'' concluded the report. Not to mention a blow to The Irish News.
The British government'', said SDLP policing spokesperson Alex Attwood, ``needs to hear what the leadership of our community are saying.'' But 24 hours later, just what was the deputy leader of the SDLP, Seamus Mallon saying?
The headline appeared to reiterate the Archbishop's earlier comments. ``It's too soon to endorse police'' appeared as reported speech next to a large photograph of the Deputy First Minister. But the caption was rather different.
``Seamus Mallon said yesterday that it was too early to say if his party would endorse the new policing service.'' Too early to say, now why was that? Perhaps because the SDLP feels poised on a new breakthrough in its challenge of the British government's attempt to curtail fundamental change within policing?
Or has the SDLP already decided to accept what nationalist public opinion finds unacceptable but what nationalist opinion makers in the media are already hawking? Is the delay simply in telling the rest of us?
The SDLP is currently pursuing a checklist of ``reasonable requests'' to the British prime minister and secretary of state. The requests include the call for independent public inquiries into the RUC handling of the killing of Portadown Catholic Robert Hamill and the assassinations of defence lawyers Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson.
The party wants Gough Barracks to close and the Special Branch to be merged into the police crime division. These are all worthy goals but do they really add up to the promise of a new beginning to policing envisaged by the Good Friday Agreement and indicated by the Patten Report?
Danny Morrison in his Andersonstown News column, thinks not. The closure of Gough Barracks is meaningless if interrogations simply take place in a different barracks, he points out. The call for public inquiries into the Hamill, Finucane and Nelson killings predates ``the treachery of Peter Mandelson'' and anyway, should basic human rights demands be tied to the fate of the RUC? ``Often in negotiations the SDLP has got off the bus a stop early before the purpose of the journey has been accomplished,'' warns Morrison.
In the past, The Irish News has used its editorial space to provide political cover for a shift in policy by the SDLP. Had it not been for the unexpected intervention of Dr Brady last week, a pathway might have been cleared to enable the SDLP to move swiftly over dangerous ground.
The Irish News' editorial was based on a fundamental lie - that the peace process is best served by marginalising republicans, pandering to the unionist veto and shoring up the RUC.
For northern nationalists, the journey towards equality, respect for human rights and democratic citizenship remains difficult and uncertain. At the first threat of a turn in the road, it would be a tragedy if the SDLP drove us all into the ditch.