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Criminalisation Of Communities Needs To Be Tackled

26 May, 2004

Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Human Rights Caitriona Ruane today addressed a conference in London on the subject of the Criminalisation of Communities .

Ms Ruane traced the decades long British government policy of Criminalising the republican and nationalist community in the six counties and recent attempts to reinvent and reinvigorate this policy through the IMC.

The following is the text of Ms Ruane's speech.

" I welcome opportunity to speak on this issue ˆ the criminalisation of communities and the use of anti-terrorist legislation

For decades Irish people, whether they are republicans, nationalists or the Irish community living in Britain will have bitter experience of the political and securocrat agenda which has resulted in a raft of draconian anti-human rights repressive legislation.

We have had emergency legislation in operation in both parts of Ireland and despite the human rights and equality provisions negotiated through the Good Friday Agreement, that legislation is not only alive but has been, in many instances, added to.

Internment without trial, which was used overwhelmingly against the republican/nationalist community in the North, remains on the statute book

Some 6 years on from the signing of the GFA the EPA remains in place; the Terrorism Act has gone even further than the EPA and despite minor gestures, the bulk of Britains military paraphernalia in the six counties, its garrison, its spy posts, its fortifications, its loyalist death squads operating in collusion with the crown forces, remain intact

From long experience ourselves, when groups begin to articulate the multi-faceted problems that are the result of anti-human rights legislation being enacted against their communities you will usually find that those who put this legislation in place will view your work as anti-democratic, as Œsuspect‚ and yes, as a "conspiracy".

It is our experience as Irish republicans, whose legitimate right to work towards Irish self-determination, was for many years labelled as a criminal/terrorist conspiracy. You have only to hark back to the Thatcher era to see how the policy makers and the securocrats embarked on a three-pronged strategy of criminalisation, normalisation and Ulsterisation to present our struggle and in particular the political prisoners in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh and women in Armagh as "thugs and criminals" to get a sense of what the establishment is about today in its treatment of ethnic and minority communities in Britain whom it views as "suspect".

Again in our experience communities and community groups in particular were singled out for particular discriminatory treatment and in the 1980‚s early 1990‚s were put through a political vetting process known as the Hurd principles

If groups wanted state or statutory funding they had to "pass" criteria which amounted to them having to disassociate themselves from the popular politics of the community they served.

Fortunately, this vetting process was actively opposed by our community but very often it came at a high cost with the loss of 9 lives at the hands of loyalist death squads and much needed social, cultural and economic regeneration funding in disadvantaged areas

Political vetting has left its mark to this day on many community groups as well as on the wider nationalist and republican community where despite 30 years of so-called anti-discrimination legislation we still have many of the top employers consistently failing to put measures in place to ensure there is fair representation in the workplace.

The reality is that when communities, any community, is labelled as suspect, terrorist, different then there are serious consequences and serious human rights and equality consequences that will have to be addressed and then redressed.

As republicans for the most part we were labelled by the British establishment and by Unionists as the "enemy from within" even before partition was official and that remains the case, to a large degree to this day.

That is why, 6 years on since the Good Friday Agreement we once again find that despite our growing democratic mandate and our commitment to fulfilling all aspects to the agreement that we are once again the target for further criminalisation and demonisation by the British and Irish governments via the establishment of the Independent Monitoring Commission.

This Commission was established outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and in our view it is part and parcel of the historical legacy of undemocratic apparatus introduced periodically over the years The IMC is composed of securocrats and those who politically opposed our party and it is largely aimed at singling out our party for criticism based on securocrats sources

Of particular note in the IMC report is paragraph 8.7 which is a hark back to the Hurd era in that it puts the onus on organisations to satisfy themselves that none of their members are linked to paramilitary groups and where they cannot prove it but merely suspect it then the person must allay the suspicion. Whatever happened to the most fundamental principle of due process i.e. the principle of "innocent until proved guilty"?

This is one of societies most fundamental values yet if the IMC‚s report is enforceable it would mean that once again the north‚s courts will be used to work a sanctions system that is anti-human rights and discriminatory on various equality grounds including, we believe, on political and religious grounds. Indeed this serious dilution of civil and political rights could well set precedent in terms of a direct read across to communities elsewhere, including here.

We have found that a consequence of this report already is that it has given new wind to those most opposed to the potential of change within the Good Friday Agreement The IMC report is being interpreted as the excuse they needed to block progress across a range of policy issues

The politics of exclusion, criminalisation and demonisation of communities whether in Ireland, here or elsewhere is almost always counter-productive. It inevitably aggravates the problem and long-fingers any short to medium-term resolution

Human Rights and equality ˆ people‚s basic entitlements ˆ almost always are damaged and denied while those in power will defend the erosion of international principles and standards in the name of "democracy" and "national security"

This can often appear to be an uphill battle to those communities trying to engage in a rational and reasonable debateThe key however is simply to persist, to widen-out the debate, to seek out allies and to build your strength." ENDS

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