25 September 1997 Edition

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Adams backs community justice

by Laura Friel

West Belfast MP Gerry Adams is backing the development of a community justice system based on existing neighbourhood watch schemes and financed by statutory agencies. Describing the RUC as "unacceptable", Adams said the existing justice system had failed. "It lacks credibility. Recent opinion polls have confirmed the absence of any measure of support for it among nationalists," he said.

"Some elements," said Adams, have inevitably sought to "selfishly exploit this situation". Car theft, criminal action, including drug dealing have become a serious concern for many citizens. Adams acknowledged that the formation of a number of community watch groups within the last ten months have dramatically decreased the level of criminal activity in areas such as Twinbrook, Poleglass and Whiterock.

"It is my firm view that until such a time as we negotiate and agree a new justice system, including a new police force, we need to seek to develop a non-violent community justice system." Reiterating his opposition to punishment beatings, Adams said that nationalist areas deserved proper policing. The West Belfast MP said existing community watch groups needed replicated, coordinated and placed on a more secure footing.

"It is important to develop an approach based on internationally recognised principles of human rights," said Adams. "Such an approach might apply mediation, payment of damages, referral to drug rehabilitation, help for families, boycott and community service." Adams said such an initiative would require resources beyond those immediately available to any community. "It is crucial that statutory and voluntary agencies join with the community in providing advice, training and other resources."

Adams said Sinn Féin had already written to two dozen statutory agencies and there had been a positive response. Sinn Féin also intends to raise this issue with Direct Ruler Marjorie Mowlam.

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