29 April 2004 Edition
IMC witch-hunt anger
Workers and Trade Unionists from the community and voluntary sector picketed Stormont this week. The protest had been organised to highlight opposition to the political vetting witch-hunt advocated by the recently published IMC report.
Over 50 representatives gathered to stage the protest, some carrying placards calling for the immediate disbanding of the IMC, a British Government quango imposed outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
Widespread anger within nationalist and unionist communities had been prompted after the four-man commission called for the imposition of political vetting in employment and participation throughout the community, voluntary, social and business sectors.
In the report, the IMC recommended that "no organisation, statutory, commercial or voluntary, should tolerate links with paramilitary groups or give legitimacy to them.
"In particular, societies and other similar organisations should make every effort to satisfy themselves that none of their members are linked to paramilitary groups. If there is any suspicion that they might be, then the onus should be in the person concerned to show there is no basis for that suspicion, not on the organisation to act only if it is proved."
In other words, the IMC are calling for an anti-republican witch hunt in which mere 'suspicion' will be deemed sufficient to threaten arbitrary exclusion and where the onus of proof will be on the accused.
"We are here today at Stormont to show our collective opposition to the IMC and the content of its first report, and, we hope, its last report," said Gerry McConville of the Falls Community Council.
"The community and voluntary sector throughout Belfast is a wide and varied one and none of the groups we have spoken to were ever consulted by the IMC," he said.
Rejecting the report's recommendations, McConville said its language and sentiment could resurrect the climate of intimidation and fear that community workers have had to work under in the past.
"The IMC should be abolished as swiftly as it was created. We are writing to the Irish and British governments to request an urgent meeting to address our concerns," said McConville.
Meanwhile, UNISON regional secretary Patricia McKeown said the union condemned the IMC proposal on political vetting.
"For many years UNISON was the leading union in the campaign against political vetting, an unjust process notoriously introduced by the former [British] Secretary of State Douglas Hurd," said the UNISON official.
"Throughout that lengthy campaign, individuals and organisations from all communities fell foul of the evil of political vetting. Community groups lost their funding, low paid workers lost their jobs and local communities lost vital services. We celebrated the removal of that policy in the late 1990s," said McKeown.
"We are outraged that the IMC should propose its re-introduction in the 21st century when trade unions and the community voluntary sector are working intensely for a peaceful and just society.
"We will not stay silent on this issue. We will not accept further infringements of the basis human rights of our citizens. As before we will campaign until the proposal is removed."
Speaking at an earlier meeting of community representatives called specifically in response to the IMC report, Geraldine McAteer of the West Belfast Partnership Board said she was angry and concerned at the serious ramifications of the IMC report.
"Is the IMC seriously asking civic society to conduct a witch hunt of Sinn Féin and PUP members and others? Such a crass suggestion would be like taking this society back to the future,' said McAteer.
Stephen Long of the West Belfast Taxi Association said any attempt to reintroduce this type of political vetting would be opposed by the association. "It's paramount that the bad old days don't return," he said.
Mike Ritchie of Coiste na nIarchimí dismissed the IMC report as "a very shoddy, very partial and very poorly sourced piece of work.
"I emphatically say that I will not be vetting people and the type of language and implications inherent in the IMC report are very close to the type of thing one would see in a fascist dictatorship," said Ritchie.
The IMC report highlights the commissioners' total lack of comprehension of the political realities in the north of Ireland. I know this might be difficult for some of our political opponents to grasp, but republicans aren't criminals to be rooted out and expelled from their communities. They are respected members who have often worked tirelessly to promote the political, social and economic aspirations of those communities.
Even for those who believe such sentiments are just Provo propaganda, simple consideration of a few statistics would expose the nonsense of the kind of perceptions that generate recommendations like those advocated by the IMC. During the last 30 years of struggle, tens of thousands of nationalists have been jailed as opponents of the British state.
In areas like West Belfast, a high percentage of people are republican former prisoners or family members of republican ex-prisoners. Does the IMC really believe the mass ethnic cleansing of former IRA POWs from a community is either possible or desirable?
The IMC chooses to ignore the massive contribution republicans of all shades have made during the current peace process but what they can't ignore is the fact that to call for the vilification of republicans in areas like West Belfast and many others, is to call for the vilification of the entire community.
Political vetting flies in the face of the process of conflict resolution and political progress envisaged by the Good Friday Agreement, while resurrecting the spectre of the British Government's infamous policy of political vetting of the 1980s.
The fact that the IMC report sought to turn back the clock is a clear indication of the misguided imposition of the commission in the first place. In imposing the IMC, the two governments have effectively handed over the political process to the securocrat old guard who have no interest in driving the project forward.
Their message is one of vilification, marginalisation and conflict. It is not a recipe for peace and progress. Attempts to criminalise republicans and nationalists have failed in the past and are doomed to fail in the future. Attempts to recruit other members of the community to police such a policy is downright silly.