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30 November 2006 Edition

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OPINION: Policing issue of key strategic importance

Loyalist threats — reaction to progress


If it wasn't so potentially serious, Michael Stone's assault on Stormont was almost laughable. A man getting stuck in a revolving door at the entrance of the building waving a gun about and being swatted by two security guards. In Stone's case, his motivation was probably self publicity. No doubt his 'art' will be selling an extra hundred pounds an item following his latest political theatre.

As with these events, it is what the event signifies that we need to analyse. Stone in some sense reflects a section of Irish society which has lost contact with what's happening and which rails against that reality, falling back on the only thing they know how.

The thing that came to my mind when I saw Stone was the killing of three AWB White supremacists by Black police in a shootout in South Africa in 1994. It was a seminal event which seemed to symbolise the final breakdown of the putative fascist reaction that was building up to the 'threat' of power-sharing. Weeks before, the AWB drove a vehicle into the building where the ANC were negotiating with the South African Government.

Militant loyalism seems to be where the AWB was then. They are marginalised and outraged by what they view as a potential 'sell-out' by those who they have trusted for so long. The resort to violence or the threat of violence is to be expected.

It is of interest that the loyalists of 1998, including Stone, supported the Good Friday Agreement -- yet, now, many seem to be unsure of whether they should support it. I think that this is reflective of their mistake at that stage of looking at the deal in an idealised way -- seeing it as a permanent deal. They did not understand the Agreement as a process of change. This is not unusual and stems from their ideology.

Republicans and socialists know that all hlitical strength of all those who share our objectives on any particular issue.

The third thought we should note is the importance of the Black policemen of Bophuthatswana who shot those AWB fascists -- the straw that cracked the back of white supremacism. It reflects the importance of state power and institutions -- even when they are not fully democratised. Just recall that Bophuthatswana was a self-governing tribal area which the Apartheid government had created to keep some tribes from supporting the ANC. When the event occurred in 1994, South Africa was still not democratic. Negotiations were ongoing on the form of the transition with the National Party trying to stall things as much as they could.

If we are serious about undermining the constitutional basis of partition - which is the continued support of a section of Irish society for it -- then our involvement in policing must be seen as potentially of key strategic importance in that struggle.s a journey, that where we were in 1998 is not where we are today and that the tide of history is with us.

What this means is discussion on the hard questions around policing. So few of us have a full grasp of where this crucial question sits at the moment. Which of us can say just how many of Patten's recommendations have been implemented and what else do we want in detail? These details should be on the tip of our tongues.

It's not just about discussing though. What's needed, certainly in the Six Counties, as identified in Declan Kearney's powerful article of two weeks ago, is that we get active on these demands. If we want the MI5 to have no role in policing, then we should be out demanding that or at least making the case for it in every meeting we have with those from business, the media, etc. We could write letters to local papers letting people know what is holding up this aspect of the negotiations.

Nobody could oppose the idea that political policing is a bad thing. Few would welcome a 'force within a force'. Indeed, if we widened discussion of these issues many who today are critical of our course might actually recognise the full significance and importance of what Gerry Kelly and others are negotiating with the British and the other parties.

In short then, we need to popularise the negotiations on the basis of simple demands which can be taken outside ourselves. Furthermore, we need to initiate a process whereby republicans reach out and listen to wider society in the north -- and perhaps elsewhere -- with a grassroots consultation on issues. It would possibly be much more worthwhile than a canvass as it would be a great way to inform people of the work and the progress that we're making. The media is filling them with negative images of all politicians and we need to counter it. Also, a grassroots consultation which goes beyond our activist base would enable activists themselves to fully grasp the depth of the popular demand to keep moving forward. It would give us a sense of the popularity of a process this movement initiated and has long come to be identified with in the popular mind.

• Domhnall Ó Cobhthaigh works with Sinn Féin's All-Ireland Department

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