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6 September 2007 Edition

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Policing : Republicans to play full role in shaping future of policing in Ireland

Sinn Féin Policing Board members Daithí McKay, Alex Maskey and Martina Anderson

Sinn Féin Policing Board members Daithí McKay, Alex Maskey and Martina Anderson

Setting the Policing Agenda

Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Policing and Justice ALEX MASKEY outlines the rationale and objectives behind the party’s current engagement with policing structures North and South.

Across Ireland, people are seeing the outworking of Sinn Féin’s historic decision to engage with the policing structures. Much engagement is based on the roll-out of the party’s clearly defined Framework for Engagement throughout the party structures.
Republicans are committed to playing a full role in determining the future development of policing across Ireland. This will only come about through critical engagement with all of the policing and justice structures.
The wider context for this lies within the historic decision of the Ard Fheis resolution of 28 January, overwhelmingly endorsed by the membership.
It sets a context that enables and challenges republicans to:-
•    Critically engage with policing and justice structures across the island in order to make them representative of and democratically accountable to the people they serve.
•    Challenge political policing
•    Challenge partisan political control and partisan political agendas in the policing and justice structures, North and South;
•    Create a civic police service.
At the heart of these commitments is the determination to achieve effective policing that is accountable, free from partisan political control, representative of the community it serves, routinely unarmed and built upon a human rights ethos. It means putting the community at the heart of policing.
We need to maximise our involvement with policing structures in a planned, systematic and co-ordinated way.
It is based on critical engagement. We will not become cheer-leaders for the PSNI or the Garda and where there are problems we will  challenge them. But it is an approach based on building solutions.
We will be working with the Ombudsman’s Office, Policing Board and District Policing Partnerships in the North and the Joint Policing Committees, Community Policing forums and the Garda Ombudsman’s Office in the 26 Counties.
It means working with all statutory agencies and NGOs such as the Human Rights Commission, Youth Justice Agency, Probation Board and organisations like the Committee for the Administration of Justice.
A number of principles underpin the engagement of Sinn Féin members and elected representatives with the policing and justice structures:–
•    Policing with the community should be at the core of civic policing.
•    An equal partnership between the community and police – the police should not be arbiters or ‘what is good’ for the community.
•    All police activity should be based on human rights standards.
•    Respect should inform our relationships with police officers.
•    Respect does not mean unconditional support.
•    Transparency in all our dealings with the police.
• Creative solutions to community problems.
•    All-Ireland co-operation and information sharing.
But what does ‘critical engagement’ really mean?
It means active participation, working constructively but without losing our scepticism, and building up relationships and forming progressive alliances to deliver maximum change.
It means constructive criticism. Where there are problems we should not hesitate to highlight them in a way that develops solutions.
It means thoroughgoing democratic scrutiny of PSNI activity. While we need to understand the police perspective, we need also to educate them about the perspectives of the communities we represent.
The experience for many of policing in the North has been one of heavy-handedness, sectarian, repressive and politically partisan. 
The issue of collusion has not gone away.
Sinn Féin is committed to achieving an accountable policing service.
In West Belfast, party President Gerry Adams met with Hugh Orde at the start of the summer. This was followed by a local meeting hosted by Gerry Adams at which local people discussed their concerns about policing in the upper Springfield area with Hugh Orde and other senior PSNI officers.
The initiative had two purposes: to effectively tackle anti-social behaviour and criminal activity and to ensure through engagement between the community and the PSNI that people get the policing service they are entitled to.
Speaking after the meeting, Gerry Adams stated clearly:
“Sinn Féin is working to open new space for the local community and criminal justice agencies, especially the PSNI, to work together and fulfil their obligations to uphold the rights of those who want to live in Ballymurphy in safety and peace, free from intimidation and threat.”
In Derry City, Springfield Road and elsewhere, Sinn Féin met with the PSNI determined to reduce the negative impact of Orange Order and other loyal order parades on the local community.
In recent weeks, Conor Murphy has led a wide-ranging community engagement with the PSNI. Following his first meeting with local senior PSNI officers, the Sinn Féin Newry/Armagh MP said:
“It is essential that communities get the policing service that they are entitled to. I believe that a critical engagement between republican communities and the PSNI can help bring this about and this is the first stage of such critical engagements.”
The meeting was followed by a public meeting in Crossmaglen when Conor Murphy agreed to facilitate further engagements between community and local business representatives and the PSNI.
In all of these engagements with the PSNI our focus is to ensure that it carries out its duties and responsibilities in a fair and impartial way, as a civic police service, which is democratically accountable to the public.
Our members on the Policing Board are currently working to develop the policing plan for 2008. This involves promoting the Sinn Féin vision on policing and justice within our society and agreeing policing policies and priorities to meet the needs of the people.
Last week, the party published its submission to the Policing Plan 2008 in the 26 Counties and laid out a number of our priorities, including that all future policing plans need to work towards the establishment of an all-Ireland policing service.
We believe that the priorities for both the PSNI and Garda must reflect the priorities of the communities they serve and must be based on a commitment to working with communities in real partnerships.
In the South, this includes a crackdown on serious drug and gun crime. Our submission included proposals to:-
•    Continue and increase the pursuit of major and lower level drug traffickers and dealers;
•    Double the resources of the Garda Drugs Unit;
•    Disband, re-train and re-deploy the Garda Special Branch to focus on organised crime; and to improve the Garda performance in areas suffering chronic problems of drug dealing.
Other key issues identified by the party include road safety and we have launched a number of campaigns to try and cut the number of deaths on our roads, including the Ógra Shinn Féin ‘Moilligh Síos’ (Slow Down) campaign.
Sinn Féin has also focused on the need to prioritise the issues of domestic and sexual violence.
We have also continued to highlight serious concerns about the efforts of the PSNI to introduce Tasers and the retention of the use of plastic bullets.
But what exactly does our engagement with the policing structures mean? In the North, it includes membership of the district policing partnerships and the Policing Board.  This includes holding the Chief Constable to account for all of his actions and those of his staff. It means:–
•    Shaping policing to meet the needs of people and communities.
•    Monitoring the task of the PSNI to deliver good policing.
•    Ensuring that the PSNI acts in line with human rights legislation.
•    Overseeing the internal police complaints and discipline system to root out wrongdoing where this occurs.
•    Working to ensure that the PSNI are representative of, and accountable to the community.
We need to stay focused on supporting the community to ensure that they get the policing that they deserve and are entitled to.

An Phoblacht Magazine


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