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4 April 2002 Edition

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Nationalists urged to resign from Police Board

Derry Sinn Féin policing spokesperson, Councillor Paul Fleming, has called on all nationalist members of the Policing Board to resign or risk losing all respect within the nationalist community.

"Another week has passed and yet again we have seen clearly that the Police Board is powerless to hold the PSNI to account," he said.

"Politically motivated raids in Derry and Belfast and the beating of nationalist residents in Belfast are the latest evidence that the PSNI is not the new beginning to policing; they are just a repackaged, renamed RUC.

'It is beyond belief that the SDLP members of the Policing Board, and other nationalists, who lent their support to this flawed body, can endure much more humiliation.

"Hardly a week goes past without further proof, as if it were needed, that the PSNI is incapable of securing the confidence of the nationalist community. Personally I find it incredible that despite all the available evidence seemingly intelligent people are unable to recognise that they are being used to cloak an unreconstructed RUC with a veneer of respectability.

"It is clear that their continued membership of this flawed Board is not bringing about change, but actually retarding the new beginning to policing that is so necessary. If they do not want to lose all credibility within our community, they should leave now."

 

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 did they resort to the old contrived annoyance ploy, with charges of threats and bullying?

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.

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.

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. 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.

 

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