Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Kelly addresses Ard Fheis on policing

29 February, 2004


Let me begin by stating the obvious.  The RUC was established as a partisan, political, protestant and paramilitary police force.  Its raison d'etre was as an instrument of political repression, counter-revolution and terror.  No wonder then that republicans put the issue of policing, at the core of the negotiations and peace process. 

For the first time in the history of the 6 county state the potential to utterly change the unionist, paramilitarty and sectarian character of policing in the North is substantially in our hands.  We have not yet reached the point of fully achieving our objectives in this area but huge advances have been made since the negotiations of 1998. 

All of the parties to the Good Friday Agreement accepted the need for 'a new beginning' to policing.

The Patten commission was set up to formulate that new beginning.

While the Patten report fell short of full disbandment of the RUC, we believe that the 175 Patten recommendations, if implemented in full, hold the potential to fundamentally and radically change both the nature and composition of policing in the 6 counties and Ireland as a whole. 

However, following the publication of the Patten report the British Government began immediately to pull back from its commitment to implement the recommendations in full.

The Mandelson Bill which appeared in Westminister in the spring of 2000 reflected a substantial dilution of Patten in all the key areas.

Sinn Féin refused to endorse the Police Act 2000 on the basis that it did not measure up.  We also lobbied other parties to do likewise.

The SDLP claimed that new legislation was not achievable. Surprise, surprise!  However, by early 2001, Sinn Féin had won the argument with the British that a new second Police Act was required.

In the negotiations of spring 2001, Sinn Fein secured further changes in policing arrangements and a commitment to reflect these in new legislation. This advance, while important was, however, insufficent to reach the required threshold.  The British Government set out the new position after Weston Park. But before that Bill was even tabled, the nationalist consensus was broken by the SDLP.  They joined the Policing Board.  In jumping too soon they protracted the negotiation and weakened the hand of Irish nationalism in seeking to secure the required new beginning to policing.

In spring 2003, negotiations between Sinn Féin and the British government secured commitments to further amendments.  The second Police Act of 2003 reflected the advances negotiated by Sinn Féin.

Critical to a new beginning to policing and justice is the issue of transfer of powers to Ireland through the local Assembly, the Executive and hence into an all-Ireland context through the all-Ireland institutions.  But transfer of powers is also crucial because it is the only way that control of policing and justice can ultimately be wrested out of the hands of British securocrats in London and the NIO who have run policing as a paramilitary force for generations.

The transfer of powers will require the enactment of a third parlimentary act by the British government, surrendering power on policing and justice matters which are currently controlled by the NIO and by London.  Without transfer Policing and justice will remain unaccountable and a tool of repression. 

Other outstanding issues which remain to be resolved include:

· A ban on the use of plastic bullets.

· In the meantime an accountability mechanism is required to deal with plastic bullets which are fired by British Army personnel.

· The necessary and additional resources needed by the Police Ombudsman to carry through her work.

· Commitments to boost the number of Catholics in the Part-Time reserve are outstanding.

· We have negotiated changes to the inquest system.  We await the outcome of the Luce Review to see if the wholesale abuse of the past will cease.

· The British government has yet to repeal emergency legislation and instead, has extended powers

· The British government must publish the Cory report and instigate the inquiries demanded by the families such as those of Pat Finucane, Robert Hamill and Rosemary Nelson

· The British Government must acknowledge state violence. In particular, disclosure of the policy of collusion, disavowal of this policy and dismantling the structures which perpetrated collusion.

The old system is resisting, it's fighting back.  We should not be surprised.  Resistance to change can be seen in the efforts by the RUC to regroup within the PSNI, particularly in the new variations of Special Branch such as REMIT.   Policing is and will continue to be a battle a day. How to work with others, such as the Oversight Commissioner, the Police Ombudsman, human rights and community groups in promoting critical, radical debate and responses to policing is vital. Policing is a site of struggle. We must bring the battle of ideas to our opponents and to the wider public.

Policing on this island is an instrument of state power. Only through the transfer of powers on policing and justice to a democratic local Assembly in the north, can the potential be unlocked to achieve a realignment of policing on an all-Ireland basis.  Policing is obviously an instrument of state power in the 26 counties, as well. As we advance an agenda for change in the north, there is an imperative to devise and advance a complimentary agenda in the south. In recent weeks and months, the development of that agenda is reflected in the critique of policing advanced by SF in Leinsteir House, and in our document on Garda reform which I commend to the Ard Fheis. There is a policing and justice deficit on the island of Ireland. The gap needs to be filled. All the people of Ireland want a new beginning to policing and justice. SF is the only party with the leadership and elected representatives, north and south, to advocate, legislate and agitate for that all-Ireland vision.

So, where does this leave us? The job given to the negotiations group was to achieve a new beginning to policing and justice, we have made significant progress especially through new legislation.  It is not an impossible task and republicans need to be acutely aware that if the Leadership achieve the objectives set in this area then this in turn will raise fundamental questions and problems for all activists. While we are still a substantial distance from that point, activists need to realise that we can achieve it, and with achievement there is responsibility.

Republicans are accused by unionists, the British and indeed other nationalist politicians of wanting too much, of being insatiable, of actually being against policing. Let me be clear. Those who have suffered from bad policing want proper policing more than anyone else. That includes me, the parents of Holy Cross, the residents of Short Strand or North Belfast or South Armagh or Tyrone, sex crime victims, drugs victims, car-crime victims, victims and survivors of collusion and all the others who want a better way of life who want justice on an equal footing.

The unionist population is afraid of losing their police force whether it is RUC or PSNI.  If we are honest, republicans too have a fear of achieving the new beginning to policing. We fear getting it horribly wrong. Our whole lives have been in rebellion against a police force in rebellion against us.  The whole idea of a police service in the 6 counties, transitional or otherwise is a massive debate.

But nobody said it would be easy. Here is the challenge facing us. As political activists we must rethink strategically, debate strategically and decide what is best for our party, for the cause we represent and most importantly for the people we represent.

Policing and justice cannot be viewed in isolation from other key issues such as the stability of the interdependent institutions, equality and human rights, demilitarisation, the ending of discrimination, collusion and so on. The militarised barracks, armoured vehicles, guns and plastic bullets do not auger well. The force within a force, the continuing political raids, and the lack of action on sectarian attacks and drug dealing makes it extremely difficult for republicans and  nationalists to envisage a radical new policing service in the future.  But we will pursue proper policing and justice with all the energy.

 

We have not yet achieved our goals. There are gaps, but as we negotiate we are filling more and more of those gaps.

People are angry and Michael Mc Dowell needs to listen if he can, above his arrogance and vomiting.  It is a Justice and Policing system for the people we will achieve -- not for the privledged few or the brown envelope brigade.  Hugh Orde, Des Rea and Denis Bradley also need to know that they are not the justice ministers in the North.  We as Republicans will not be a part of a Police force which is involved in collusion or protects Human Rights abusers, or Drugs barons, or Sectarian murderers because they are state agents. 

There will be no force within a force when we are finished.  We will accept nothing less than the entitlements of people to have a community police service representative, accountable and free from partisan political control.

No-one should be bigger than justice and certainly not the police force.  I call on this Ard Fheis and activisits to support us in this very fundamental struggle for an enduring and All-Ireland Justice system.

1

Connect with Sinn Féin