Sinn Féin has been at the forefront of pushing for positive change to transform the delivery of justice on the island of Ireland for over a century.
Our policy development team have developed a very progressive and comprehensive draft set of policy proposals in the Justice area which must now be finalised by giving members the opportunity to participate in its further development.
Over the years, we as Republicans have challenged unjust laws, unjust means and methods of policing, unjust means and methods of investigation and interrogation including torture, unjust courts, the corruption of the trial process, and inhumane prison conditions.
We did this not just for the benefit of political prisoners – but for the benefit of the community as a whole.
Due to the constructive interventions of republicans, fundamental changes in the landscape of Irish justice have taken place – and are continuing to take place.
But our work in this regard is far from done.
People still feel unsafe. People are still vulnerable to crime.
Rural communities are being faced with cuts to policing services based purely on a financial calculation from the Garda Commissioner, rather than local needs.
Everyone has the right to freedom from fear, and this is a challenge the Irish policing and justice systems must meet.
We must have effective policing as one of the mechanisms to combat crime – but we must also not allow that to draw us towards supporting policing strategies that are clearly not republican because they come at the expense of human rights.
There must be more than the sound-bites and gimmicks, more than the reactionary policies we all too often get from Government – they are quick fix solutions that simply won’t work.
If they did work then we wouldn’t have the levels of crime and anti-social behaviour that blight many of our communities.
As I have said, there are no quick fix solutions, this will be a long process and the solutions have to be socially and economically effective.
This approach is what makes us different to other parties.
We do not construct justice, social or economic policy based on knee jerk reaction.
Justice policy must be evidence-based. We must address what causes crime – prevention is better than cure.
We know from our research and international best practise of an evidence-based analysis of justice policy, that one of the main things that will cut crime levels, is ensuring the provision of community, economic development and the elimination of poverty, ensuring education and employment, having a rights-based society where housing, healthcare and equality are not reserved for the privileged few.
These are the things that reduce people’s insecurity and vulnerability to crime – not the populist gimmicks demanded by certain crime columnists.
Very often we see the creation of more laws, and new laws and regimes, so that the Government can be seen to be doing something about crime. They are token gestures.
A few years ago Michael McDowell introduced ASBOs. We said they wouldn’t work and they didn’t.
Justice is a core republican objective and it requires the rule of law – but rule of law must be rights-based and accountable.
Everyone has the right to freedom from fear, and to feel safe and secure in their homes and communities – and for this to happen there must be a more equal society, but while we are on the way to building that society, there is an obligation on the Government to ensure that the policing systems are resourced effectively.
There must be an increase in the proportion of Gardai on operational duty including through civilian support, response times should be quicker, and high visibility patrols must increase.
There must be an increase in greater foot patrols on the ground in communities. These are the things that reduce crime and lead to increased safety in communities.
The recession has been an exceptionally negative thing but there is now an opportunity for the Government to actually look at the solutions that work and what is cost effective.
Short-term measures cost more in the long term, but we have the capacity, as republicans to come up with effective solutions to crime in Ireland.