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23 August 2001 Edition

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Policing plan is unacceptable

``Young nationalists and republicans will not be fooled into accepting less than their just entitlements; they will not be fooled into joining this repackaged RUC; they will not join a police service still controlled by the securocrats.'' So says Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew, who this week described the British Implementation Plan on Policing as ``deeply flawed'' and pointed out that for the second time within a month a British government deadline has been broken.

``Clearly, the Implementation Plan is not the last word,'' she said. ``Negotiations on policing are set to continue. Even those who have accepted the British government proposals on policing admit that the threshold of Patten has not yet been met and that work remains to be done.

``The days of nationalists accepting less than our just entitlements and rights are long gone. Nationalists will not be fooled into believing that what is on offer amounts to a new beginning to policing.''

Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said that Sinn Féin has carried out an exhaustive assessment of the British government's Implementation Plan and will deal with it in detail shortly. ``But it is clear from our examination of the plan that the British government has failed to resolve many of those crucial issues that are vitally important to nationalists and republicans.

``Sinn Féin has been consistent in our criticism of the Mandelson legislation and implementation plan. We have argued that it does not form the basis for the new beginning to policing as promised in the Good Friday Agreement. Without a return to the Patten report as a starting position for change, any new proposals will remain unacceptable.

``The implementation plan currently being offered by the British government does not go far enough. It does not constitute a genuine attempt to bridge the gap between republican and nationalist aspirations for a proper and consensual approach to policing.

``Key issues which need to be resolved have not been resolved. These include the limitations on the initiation of inquiries; powers of and appointments to the policing boards; powers of the Ombudsman; protection being offered to human rights offenders and informers; and changes to the Special Branch.

``With respect to all of these issues there are no substantive changes to what was already on the table. The Implementation Plan does not constitute a decisive effort to win nationalist and republican support for the new police service.

``More importantly it does not deliver on the new beginning promised in the Good Friday Agreement.''

``Sinn Féin will continue to demand that the British government honour their commitments and create the new beginning to policing envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement,'' pledged Michelle Gildernew. ``It will only be at that point that nationalists and republicans will give their whole hearted support to a new police service.''


Stooping to pressure on policing


Adding to the general thrust of negative forces now attempting to isolate Sinn Féin and impede the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, the SDLP's decision to accept this week's policing proposals amounted to little more than a genuflection to John Reid.

The SDLP decision also revealed why they are traditionally referred to disparagingly in some quarters as the `stoops' - or `stoop down low party'. Browne reminded readers in Wednesday's Irish Times that there is no point in trying to push through policing legislation without the support of Sinn Féin, because ``however unfortunate it may be, the SDLP and the Catholic hierarchy don't matter. They went along, for the most part, with the reformed RUC of 1970 - and remember what happened to it?''

In an act of establishment choreography, the Dublin government, followed by the Catholic bishops, followed by the SDLP, endorsed a very watery dilution indeed of the Patten Report. It still fires plastic bullets, still refuses to take an oath on the upholding of human rights, cedes the power to block judicial inquiries to the British Secretary of State and the RUC Chief Constable, and is based on a grey implementation plan which is not to be set in train until the end of 2002 - a grey package endorsed by all the grey elements of Irish society.

Clearly, this falls short of what nationalists and republicans require in terms of policing - their rights, now, and in black and white. The SDLP, as Mitchel McLaughlin put it, is prepared to accept ``half a loaf''. Sinn Féin is not. As a result of the SDLP decision, the British Secretary of State, John Reid, is now maintaining that the policing debate is closed - ``non negotiable''.

Colombia hysteria

Not only have the SDLP been strengthening John Reid's hand this week, but the securocrats have been at it as well. The arrest of three Irish men allegedly carrying false passports in Colombia has formed the basis for more speculation than the deaths of JFK, Elvis Presley and Vladmir Rasputin combined. British Intelligence have peddled tales of IRA Volunteers procuring everything from drugs to napalm bombs in the Colombian jungle.

It was claimed that the three were caught on Colombian cameras training FARC guerillas. This was later retracted. It was claimed that the three had traces of bomb-making material and cocaine on their clothes. This was retracted also. It was claimed that one of them was charged - retracted again. Sinn Féin rubbished reports that one of the men was the party's Cuban representative - such a position does not even exist. On Wednesday, the men were charged but the Colombians have yet to come up with any substantive evidence that the men were engaged in any illegal activity on their journey to Colombia.

Indeed, the family of one of the men, Niall Connolly, has now asked Dublin Foreign Affairs Minister Brian Cowen to intervene, expressing deep concern for the men's wellbeing. They can be held for up to eight months while the Colombian authorities attempt to build a case against them.

The incredible thing about all of this is that the vast bulk of the establishment media has been prepared to take the word of British securocrats and print and reprint allegations that they had no hope of substantiating. Incredible also, that the arrest, without charge, of three Irish men, 5,000 miles away, has warranted, in one week, more media coverage than the 200-or-so loyalist attacks on nationalists and republicans this year. The hypocrisy is baffling.

Unionism benefits

For unionism, as An Phoblacht observed last week, recent events have been going very much their way. David Trimble's intention of collapsing the institutions, creating a crisis and blaming it all on republicans has, with a little nifty MI5 media manipulation, worked a treat.

Again, the choreography was perfect. The IRA makes a proposal on arms, which is summarily rejected by the UUP. The British government takes the perverse step of backing up the UUP position by suspending the Agreement institutions, leaving the IRA with no choice but to revoke its proposal, citing UUP intransigence and British government failure to keep the process on track as their reasons for doing so.

Now, with the support of the SDLP, the two governments and even the DUP, the erosion of the Good Friday Agreement Trimble prophesised after ``crisis'' and ``suspension'' is regrettably coming to pass.

What is lost in all of this is the principle of democracy. The SDLP's decision to support the new policing proposals was heralded as the historic acceptance of policing in the Six Counties by nationalists, while John Reid says the proposals are non negotiable.

But the proposals themselves take democratic power away from the people in that it is not the people of the Six Counties, or their elected representatives, but John Reid and Ronnie Flanagan who are the final arbiters of what amounts to a repackaged RUC will look like. They must be reminded that fair, impartial, accountable policing is not a concession. It's a right.

Brits out poll

The UUP's Michael McGimpsey stated this week that Sinn Féin is ``isolated'' and ``out of touch''. But disturbingly for unionism, there is another democratic trend running contrary to what David Trimble and, indeed, the British government are trying to achieve. According to an ICM poll, published in The Guardian newspaper this week, only 26 per cent of British people think the Six Counties should be occupied by Britain, while 46 per cent support a United Ireland. The other 23 per cent, the Guardian surmises, simply don't care. While unionists can take succour from the behaviour of British spooks and Irish stoops this week, in the long term it is they, rather than Sinn Féin, who are facing isolation.


Policing: SDLP accept half a loaf


As expected, the SDLP finally succumbed to London and Dublin government pressure when on Monday, John Hume formally announced the party's support for the British Secretary of State's implementation plan for reform of policing in the Six Counties. Hume told a press conference that the SDLP would now adopt a policy of encouraging young Catholics to join the force. The party's support comes despite the fact that John Reid's proposals still fall far short of what was laid out in the Pattern Report, most crucially in respect of human rights, accountability and the continued use of plastic bullets.

The SDLP's announcement also came immediately after Catholic bishops in the six counties had also endorsed the plan, timing which laid the party open to accusations that it s policies are dictated by the church, accusations which were duly levelled by - of all parties - the DUP which referred to Hume as the poodle of the Catholic church.

In an article in Tuesday's Irish News, Seamus Mallon defended the SDLP's decision to settle for significantly less than what was promised by Patten by claiming that his party had secured some 94 alterations to the British government's original proposals for the force. He spoke of new but unspecified legislation which will, apparently, ``meet key SDLP demands on policing'' and presented cuts in the force's Special Branch (as opposed to abolition); the fact that new recruits will not be permitted to fire the recently introduced, more lethal plastic bullets; and cosmetic changes to the name and symbols of the force as a victories secured by him and his party. The `spirit' of Patten is, it seems, sufficient for the SDLP.

Thus, what Mallon did not address in his article were the following, critical, failures in the Reid implementation plan:

It provides no means for instituting inquiries into past human rights abuses or for any investigation into and sanctions against known human rights abusers currently serving in the force.

It allows serving officers to continue in service without having to take the new oath.

It allows for the continued use of plastic bullets.

Special Branch will not be abolished; instead it will merely be cut by 50%.

The powers of the proposed District Policing Partnership Boards are still restricted; their role will be `consultative', which in practical terms means that the police force would still remain unaccountable to local communities.

The British Secretary of State will still retain the power to veto inquiries ordered by the Police Board.

It allows for the possibility of the exclusion of individuals from the Police Board on the basis of previous political offences.

The SDLP's decision to endorse Reid's implementation plans also seems to have as much to do with narrow party interests as with its oft-stated desire to see the formation of a truly representative, accountable and humane police force. The party was severely traumatised at being overtaken by Sinn Féin at the last elections and is clearly engaged in colluding with the two governments, the Catholic Church and the UUP in order to try and isolate Sinn Féin on the question of policing and boost its own electoral prospects in the process.

There is a great risk, however, that this plan will backfire horribly as the nationalists the SDLP is urging to join the police force begin to understand the practical reality of the failure to adopt Patten in full. Indeed, one unnamed party worker told the Anderstonstown News that ``if the SDLP goes for half-a-loaf on this issue, it may go down well among supporters in Antrim and Down, but west of the Bann the party will be decimated by Sinn Féin.

``Giving the SDLP seal of approval to the new police force will be the kiss of death for moderate nationalism in those areas where the republican threat is greatest and effectively hand over the role of guardians of nationalism to the Provos. Patten was the compromise and the SDLP should hold out for Patten and nothing less than Patten.

``The party big-wigs in Belfast think they're going to isolate Sinn Féin by lining up alongside the Irish and British governments on this one. Unfortunately, the only people who are going to end up being isolated come the next election are the SDLP standard bearers.''

Meanwhile, the Pat Finucane Centre in Derry has issued a statement saying that it will not recommend that people join the new police service because outstanding concerns about human rights have not been addressed. It said that the Patten report was a ``baseline'' which could be worked with, but the Police Act 2000 and the new Implementation Plan together ``still fall far short of that baseline''.

It went on: ``As the situation stands at present, the institutional factors which have led to human rights abuses in the past have not been adequately dealt with. In the absence of adequate change, a fair-minded person joining the police would still have little or no impact on the type of policing experienced by the community.

``While there have been some improvements, there are still a number of key ways in which the Implementation Plan fails to deal with the institutional and cultural conditions within the RUC which have led to human rights abuses in the past and which could lead to their occurring again.''


An Phoblacht
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