28 March 2002 Edition

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Bradley drugs call rejected

Derry Sinn Féin Policing Spokesperson Colr Paul Fleming has slammed as ludicrous calls by the Deputy Chair of the Policing Board, Dennis Bradley, that community groups work with the PSNI to tackle the drugs issue.

"It is ludicrous for Dennis Bradley to advise community groups to work with this discredited force to tackle the drugs issue when we know for a fact that RUC Special Branch has protected drug dealers in exchange for information," said Fleming.

"It is a matter of public record that Special Branch allowed informants a free hand in the drugs trade and allowed loyalist paramilitaries involved in drugs to operate free from the threat of arrest. Indeed, the former head of the RUC Drugs Squad, Kevin Sheehy, admitted publicly that Special Branch had prevented the arrest of drug dealers because they were informants.

"In this light, how then can Dennis Bradley ask local community groups to work with the PSNI whilst the Special Branch continue as an unaccountable force within a force, and as events in Strabane last week exposed, are actively recruiting informers within our communities.

"Is Dennis Bradley actually proposing that community groups seek to put the PSNI and their Special Branch bosses in touch with the most vulnerable sections of our communities?"

 

Derry SDLP's policing shame


BY COLM BARTON (SINN FÉIN PRO, DERRY)


Since February's Derry City Council meeting, much has been speculated and written about what was said during the heated exchanges between Sinn Féin and the SDLP over the issue of policing. Most of what has been reported is inaccurate and the council minutes will support this. However, the accuracy of what was said is of less importance to the SDLP and their media trumpeters than their desperate need to create a smokescreen of contrived annoyance in order to divert attention away from the real issue: the unacceptability of the RUC/PSNI.

Why do the SDLP go berserk when challenged about their position on policing? Why do they resort to the old contrived annoyance ploy, with charges of threats and bullying? I am amazed that councillors with the experience of Willie O'Connell and Kathleen McCloskey are saying they felt threatened.

The only possible thing they could have been threatened by was the political argument. Their public utterances, outcry, dismay and outrage are only confirmation of the insecurity of their position. Why are they so insecure that they have to resort to contrived annoyance in order to create a smokescreen? Because they cannot defend their position on the policing issue.

When the column inches devoted to their wounded pride and feigned outrage gradually shorten over the next several weeks, the SDLP will go strangely silent. And the public still will not be any clearer about the SDLP's position on policing or why they are determined to legitimise the RUC in Derry.

The SDLP's position is untenable, unjustified, contrary to its own leadership's position and indefensible. But rather than stand before the electorate and explain why they have involved the present discredited police force in council business, they would prefer to present themselves as victims, milk that for all it is worth, and then continue to sneak the RUC in the back door by voting to involve them in council business when the clear legal advice is that they perform no role or function.

The SDLP like to preach about democracy as if they own the concept. There are many aspects to democracy. One aspect is that persons of opposing beliefs be permitted to voice their opposition. Another is that issues of importance are debated publicly before the electorate. Yet another fundamental tenet of democracy is that a society cannot be policed without its consent.

But the SDLP's definition is different. To them, democracy means: we have more councillors than you and if we say so, you like it or lump it, end of issue, no discussion and no debate.

If the SDLP were the democrats they claim to be, they would not be afraid to debate the policing issue publicly. They would have come clean on their intention to join the policing board prior to the June elections when they could have received a mandate (or not) from the electorate to do so. It wasn't a wet week after the elections that they jumped onto the policing board without a mandate from the electorate. They were dishonest about their intentions to join the policing board before the elections and they are dishonest with the people of Derry by sneaking the RUC into council business without a full public debate during which they explain and defend their position.

Their arrogance has caused the current crisis on Derry City Council. And if Sinn Féin, the largest nationalist party in the north, disagrees, they'll join up with the anti-Agreement unionists to vote against us. But what kind of message does this send the Derry public?

They are behaving with as much arrogance as the old unionist controlled corporation that employed every trick in the book to cling to their power and control. And their actions are becoming more desperate.

Sinn Féin fundamentally disagrees with the SDLP on the policing issue. It is one thing for the SDLP to make a political judgement (flawed as it may be) but it is another for them to believe that is the end of the debate.

Surely their own voters deserve a lucid explanation as to why, on the one hand, the SDLP leadership claims to be part of the policing board in order to effect change and, on the other hand, their locally elected group has no problem cosying up to the RUC in Derry? Which is it? The position of the local SDLP is so inconsistent it is ludicrous.

In a week that Sinn Féin introduced a notice of motion to disband the Special Branch, the response from the SDLP was to bring the RUC, including members of the Special Branch, into a special Environmental Services meeting. Then, in case the public was in any doubt as to where the SDLP stood, they proceeded to vote to keep the RUC present at that particular meeting when the clear legal advice issued to the committee was that the RUC had no role or function at it. Several days later, at the February council meeting, the SDLP voted with the anti-Agreement lobby to reject the Sinn Féin motion without debate.

Sinn Féin believes in a new beginning to policing. We need a police service in this city that is capable of engendering the support of all its citizens. We need to be a society capable of consenting to be policed. We need men and women from our communities seeking careers in policing - people who know their communities and whom the people in those communities trust.

A new beginning means young men and women pursuing policing careers without fear because they are joining a legitimate, endorsed police force that enjoys the support and confidence of this society. We need police stations instead of armoured barracks. We need a police service whose priorities include city centre violence, drugs, vandalism and all the other infringements on civil order with which normal police services concern themselves. We need a police force that builds and develops new and innovative, imaginative partnerships with communities.

Compare this vision and aspiration to what the SDLP offers and says is good enough for us. They say a renamed, rehashed RUC is good enough for us. End of story. John Tierney seems to think that if thousands of Catholics join the RUC, this is significant. But this isn't about a sectarian headcount. The argument is about creating a proper, accountable policing service.

When pushed, the SDLP will say that by participating on the policing board they will effect change. But we all know that today's policing board is so far removed from that envisaged by Patten that it is powerless to do anything but encourage more Catholics to join. This policing board will not deliver Patten. But the SDLP refuses to understand that the RUC is unacceptable to nationalists. Nothing in its history has given nationalists any reason to support the RUC. Nothing about the RUC fits into the new political dispensation: not its uniforms, badges, guns, armoured vehicles, plastic bullets, Special Branch or emergency and oppressive legislation.

Reinventing the RUC and renaming it the PSNI won't work either.

The SDLP position represents a failure of leadership and if pursued will condemn another generation to uncertainty and division. I look forward to the day when the people give Sinn Féin the political strength to not only implement the agreement in full but to build a new Ireland of equals.

 


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