Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Gerry Kelly opens session on Policing at the 2005 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis

6 March, 2005


Sinn Féin spokesperson on Policing and Justice Gerry Kelly MLA speaking at the 2005 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis this morning said that republicans have put policing at the "very core of negotiations with the British".

Full Text:

For generations now the police force in the North has been an instrument of political repression, counter-revolution and terror. It has been a partisan, political, protestant and paramilitary force, which has been used in the main against Catholics, Nationalists and republicans.

For any conflict resolution process, or peace process or political process to succeed in Ireland then all the above has to change so radically that the old regime will be unrecognisable in the new beginning to policing that republicans are striving for.

Republicans put policing at the very core of negotiations with the British for that reason.

I'm not going to go over all the history of those very protracted and ongoing negotiations except to remind people that instead of having one Justice Act and one Policing Act, Sinn Féin had to push for and achieve a further Act in each case because the first Acts simply reflected the securocrats trying to arrest change as opposed to implement it.

Let us also remind ourselves that those who scream the loudest for Sinn Fein to join the present policing arrangements are the same individuals and political parties who worked with the RUC and the judicial system at the worst periods of oppression of Nationalists during the last 35 years and longer. Indeed some of the political parties in the 26 counties introduced and enacted repressive legislation against republicans that would have made Maggie Thatcher or for that matter Attilla the Hun look like Florence Nightengale.

So where are we at, at our 2005 Ard Fheis? We have made very substantial progress. We have a Police Act, which more fully reflects the 175 Patten recommendations.

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. 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.

∑ We have negotiated changes to the inquest system. We await the outcome 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 inquiry demanded by the family of Pat Finucane is again being buried through new legislation to prevent the truth coming out.

∑ The British Government must acknowledge state violence. And collusion and dismantle the structures which perpetrated collusion.

Within the last year, a battery of new repressive legislation has been introduced by the British government. The most recent proposal is a new Prevention of Terrorism Bill which is reminiscent of anti-democratic laws which prevailed under Apartheid in South Africa. The British government has also revealed plans to change the role of MI5 in relation to policing in the 6 counties. These proposals will pre-empt the transfer of powers. Any attempt to minimise the transfer of powers will be unacceptable to Sinn Féin and we have said that to both governments. All of this vindicates the position our party has taken in demanding to see the script for legislation on transfer of powers.

Previous speakers have already laid out the potential comprehensive agreement of last December. When the DUP bluff on power sharing was called they collapsed the negotiations. The policing section in that was essentially that in the context of: -

Agreement between the parties on the departmental model and the powers to be transferred;

The enactment by the British government of the legislation to give full expression to this transfer of powers on policing and justice away from London; and

A DUP commitment to a short timeframe for the transfer of powers on policing and justice.

Then the party president would propose to the Ard Comhairle that it calls a special Ard Fheis to decide Sinn Féins position on new policing arrangements.

In other word because of our experience thus far on the efforts of securocrats to hollow out legislation we wanted to see the parliamentary Act after it was passed to make sure the British keep their word. On that basis the Ard Comhairle and most importantly the rank and file in the party would then have the opportunity to debate the very fundamental issues involved at conference.

Let me repeat what I said at last years Ard Fheis. The job given to the negotiations team 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 Republican Leadership achieves the objectives set in this area then this in turn will raise fundamental questions and problems for all activists. There is a public commitment if we reach that point to then put a changed policy to our membership and nationalism as a whole. While we are a substantial distance from that point yet, activists need to realise that we can achieve it and with achievement there is responsibility.

Now let me quote SDLP Chief Seamus Mallon. He recently said, "The people of West Belfast, West Tyrone and South Armagh do not want policing because if you have policing, you don't have criminality".

Try telling the people of New York, London and Dublin that good policing means no criminality. You need policing because of criminality.

No one wants a new beginning to policing and justice more than the nationalist and republican people of West Belfast, West Tyrone and South Armagh. I commend all of those who work on the ground to create safer communities through anti-car crime schemes; youth outreach programmes, and especially, Community Restorative Justice projects. They are doing a greater serviced to working class nationalist areas than the policing and justice system has ever done.

Negotiations herald change. Change brings turmoil and soul searching. It also means breaking moulds. If we accept that the political changes over the last decade have caused massive upheaval for the Unionist and British system which has misruled the North for so many years let us also accept that Republicans have faced shibboleths and sacred cows as well.

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, the mis-policing of loyalists marches and the lack of action on sectarian attacks and drug dealing makes it extremely difficult for republicans and nationalist to envisage a radical new policing service in the future. But we will pursue proper policing and justice with all out energy.

Last December in theory at least, we were within months of having a decisive debate on this issue. Delegates need to go back to their areas and open up the debate within Sinn Fein and their community.

Our opposition to the present policing arrangements is not a matter of timing. It is not merely a question of tactics. It is a matter of integrity and our inalienable rights.

It is a Justice and Policing system for the people we will achieve, not for the privileged few or the brown envelope brigade. Hugh Orde needs to know that he is not the justice minister in the North. We as Republicans will not be part of the Police Force which is involved in collusion, we will not be part of a Police Force which protects Human Rights abusers, or Drugs barons, or Sectarian murderers simply because they are state agents. There will be no force within a force when we are finished. We will create a new policing service, which will serve the whole community throughout Ireland. We will have a service, which is representative, accountable and free from partisan political control.

I call on this Ard Fheis and activists to support us in this very fundamental struggle for an enduring and All-Ireland Justice system.

Connect with Sinn Féin