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12 September 2002 Edition

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Policing Board PR exercise leaves nationalists cold


Does the British government seriously think it can embarrass Sinn Féin onto Policing Boards and into District Policing Partnerships?

Do they believe that a few glossy adverts eliciting support will tip the balance within nationalist communities?

Do they image that scare stories of rising crime rates and social disorder will render the PSNI as it currently stands any more acceptable?

Well, if the current propaganda campaign is anything to judge by, they obviously do. To date, Sinn Féin has refused to take up two seats allocated to the party on the Policing Board and is set to boycott the soon to be established locally based 29 District Policing Partnerships.

Last week, Sinn Féin reaffirmed its decision not to back the current policing arrangements, despite renewed pressure to shift its position.

"Sinn Fein's position remains the same in that we will not join the policing boards until there is effective legislation which allows for proper and effective scrutiny of the PSNI," said Sinn Féin spokesperson on policing, Gerry Kelly.

"The British government's Policing Act does not have the power over the PSNI that was recommended by Patten. The DPPs have even less power."

The fact that Sinn Féin would be effectively barred from police boards for three years if the party did not take its places by next month was "inconsequential", said Kelly.

With the deadline for individual DPP applications approaching fast, the British government launched a massive propaganda initiative to encourage nationalist participation. Television, press and radio advertisements are to be accompanied with conferences held throughout the Six Counties to encourage people, "from all walks of life" to join. As part of the publicity campaign, key individuals reiterated the message.

Policing Board chairperson Desmond Rea told the media that republicans could no longer justify their boycott. Rea reminded all parties that rights won within the new dispensation also carried with them responsibilities.

"The District Policing Partnerships will not succeed unless they are inclusive in their make up, with voices from all sections of the community being heard. This must be a two-way street. Communities have their rights but they also have their responsibilities," said Rea.

Policing Board vice chairperson Denis Bradley said despite its disapproval, Sinn Féin no longer had any excuses to hide behind. Negotiations to fully implement the Patten blueprint had taken place during last year's all party talks at Weston Park, claimed Bradley.

"There is no political reason in the world, if Weston Park is what it is claimed to be, why Sinn Féin should not be on this board in a short period of time," said Bradley. The key word here is 'if'. Bradley might start with the (false) assertion that Patten has been secured but he ends with a maybe.

The newly appointed PSNI/RUC Chief Constable, Hugh Orde, said the force wanted to deliver community policing but the "lunatic fringe" was preventing them.

"The officers I've seen are very impressive individuals and what's interesting is they are talking about community policing," said Orde. "A sergeant said he would talk to people who wanted to support the police but sometimes they felt unable to support them publicly.

"We want to deliver community policing but the lunatic fringe is preventing us from doing it. They're damaging their own communities as well as my officers," said Orde.

Orde remained noncommittal about who and what he meant by the 'lunatic fringe' but went on to describe the fact the Sinn Féin is not on the Policing Board as a 'major block'.

Meanwhile, the Irish News was appealing to "any right thinking person" and citing "car crime, drug abuse, vandalism, burglary, anti social behaviour" which "make the everyday lives of so many residents a complete misery." It is "unfortunate that Sinn Féin continues to reject involvement in the new structures," the Irish News concluded.

But the Newsletter editorial is my personal favourite. The article starts with a critique of Sinn Féin's boycott position and concludes that "it would be great to have all of the parties on board to help resolve our complex policing difficulties."

Sinn Féin is "swimming against the tide" and the basis of the party's opposition is either "sinister" or "opportunistic", says the Newsletter, warning that Sinn Féin "may find itself out in the cold".

Then, mindful of its readership, the editorial tries to square its call for republican participation with the circle of no power sharing rejectionism. Raising the spectre of unidentifiable republican terrorists sitting on policing partnerships, the Newsletter offers reassurance:

"The important thing to remember is that the policing partnerships, important as they may be for digesting public opinion, are PURELY CONSULTATIVE BODIES WITH NO STATUTORY POWERS.

"The Policing Board which oversees the functions of the PSNI will be obliged to listen to a wide range of opinions expressed at the partnerships but, ultimately, the decisions are made by the board with the full approval of the Secretary of State, acting on behalf of the [British] Government."

The words maybe different but on one thing at least Sinn Féin and the editor of the Newsletter agree. The Policing Act had robbed the public of powers to hold the police fully accountable, said Gerry Kelly.

The difference lies in the fact that the Newsletter finds reassuring what the wider nationalist community finds unacceptable. And that should come as no surprise, given the history of policing in the north.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin has released video film footage evidence of a series of incidents in which PSNI officers failed to intervene to stop loyalist violence against Catholics in the Short Strand.

In one incident, the footage shows PSNI Land Rovers standing by as masked loyalists launch missiles at Catholic houses in the Short Strand area of East Belfast. Loyalists fire catapults over a steel barricade at Catholic residents. The PSNI make no attempt to prevent the attack or apprehend the assailants.

In another incident, captured on film, three masked loyalists are seen gathering at the end of Madrid Street as two armoured PSNI Land Rovers sit parked on the nearby pavement. The loyalists hurl stones and bottles over the barrier.

During an incident in August, the film shows PSNI officers, responding to a call in the nationalist Short Strand, turning on a nationalist resident, attacking him with batons. A PSNI officer also assaults the cameraman, leaving him with a broken hand.

For Sinn Féin and the northern nationalist community, the decision to withhold support for the PSNI is not just a matter of policy, party politics or behind-the-doors negotiations but also the reality of policing on the streets.

The continued deployment of plastic bullets, the failure of the PSNI to prevent loyalist attacks on nationalist homes, schools and chapels, together with a number of brutal attacks by PSNI officers on members of the nationalist community and the lack of public accountability, renders the current policing arrangements unacceptable.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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