Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Address by Gerry Kelly, MLA Policing & Justice section - Ard Fheis 2006

19 February, 2006


Go raibh maith agaibh. Ta me sasta le bheith ag labhairt libh ar maidin. It has been an extraordinary year since I last stood here. The historic decisions taken by the IRA last July, the ending of its armed campaign and the putting of arms beyond use have removed any excuse or pretext for the unionists, the British or the Irish government to hold up progress. On the issue of policing and justice these events have made it all the more imperative to make progress. We must continue to drive that agenda. No-one else will.

No-one here needs a lesson on the history of policing in the North Eastern corner of our country. The police force has been a partisan, political, protestant and paramilitary force, which has been used in the main against Catholics, Nationalists and republicans. All that has to change so radically that the old regime will be unrecognisable in the new beginning to policing that republicans are striving for.

Our opposition to the present policing arrangements is not just a matter of timing. It is a matter of integrity, entitlements and our inalienable rights. Republicans will not be badgered or forced into accepting less than the new beginning to policing promised in the Good Friday Agreement. At the core of our position is the establishment of a threshold which enables the creation of democratically accountable representative civic policing and the consignment of political policing to the dustbin of history along with the other failures of the past.
That is why Sinn Fein has made this issue a core part of negotiations. In those negotiations, the key outstanding matter is the transfer of powers on policing and justice away from London and out of the hands of British securocrats, into restored local Assembly and all-Ireland institutions.

Those opposed to us are pulling out all the stops to prevent the changes inevitable in the growth of Sinn Féin North and South.

Political policing continues apace within the PSNI. Since last summer alone, the evidence of political policing has been irrefutable. This includes the political policing of loyalist marches; the revelations about former RUC members stealing information and thwarting murder investigations; the discovery that files on dozens of republicans including Sinn Fein elected representatives are kept in the PSNI's Castlereagh barracks; the fact that these files had been passed onto unionist paramilitaries; politically motivated house raids; trumped up charges and media misinformation orchestrated by sections of the PSNI; the high-profile arrest and false accusations against Sinn Fein MLA Francie Brolly; the PSNI raid on the Casement Park home of the County Antrim GAA; only this week we learn that a loyalist who has murdered at least 12 Catholics was being paid £50k a year by Special Branch. These are some of the manifestations of political policing.
We also know now that the institutions voted for by 2 _ million Irish people and set up under the Good Friday Agreement were collapsed by Special Branch in a political coup d'etat.

Let's be clear about their agenda. Our political opponents, in the institutions of state, do not want a Shinner about the place. They don't want the Good Friday Agreement. They don't want change. They don't want acceptable policing institutions and practices which would see democratically elected politicians policing the police. This is the objective of political policing; the self-perpetuation of the securocrats. Deirtear go minic go dtiocfaidh ar la. Ta la s'acu imithe go deo - ach nil a fhios acu go foill.

Our political opponents who accepted too little, jumped too soon and endorsed the existing policing arrangements must carry some of the blame. In four years on the Policing Board, they have failed to hold the political detectives publicly to account and failed to end collusion and political policing. Instead, SDLP MPs have gone to Westminster and voted to reintroduce 28-day detention orders, taking us right back to the days of the old Special Powers Act so opposed by the Civil Rights Movement.

Last year in my speech to the Ard Fheis I pointed out that the British government had plans to enhance the role of MI5 in relation to aspects of policing in the 6 counties. The PSNI Chief Constable this week said that MI5 would have the covert fight against republicanism under its control while the PSNI would deal with loyalism because - wait for it - "loyalism was not a threat to British national security". May I remind him, emphatically, that they were no threat, precisely because they worked for the British state as agents of Special Branch and MI5 and some 1500 people were killed at their hands.

Having stated all of that in the poisoned atmosphere created by political policing, the question is: Is it actually possible to achieve a new policing dispensation?
The answer to that is yes. Not only is it possible. It is necessary. Campaigns to expose the truth about collusion and end political policing are vital. These are integral to our strategy on policing. We must continue to assert our right to an accountable, civic policing service in the face of those who only want political policing. We must put the Political Detectives out of business.

At the core of achieving a new beginning to policing is the issue of accountability through transferring power over policing and justice away from the political masters of London and MI5 to Ireland under locally elected institutions in the North and on an all Ireland basis through the North South Ministerial Council and all Ireland implementation bodies.

In the upcoming negotiations that is what Sinn Féin will be pushing for. The British have this week published enabling or framework legislation to allow for transfer in the future. Sinn Féin have been pressing for, this first step for a considerable time. Both governments know that the publishing of enabling legislation will not be enough on its own to honour the commitments given. The devil as they say is in the detail. This is about giving expression in law to the transfer of powers - taking powers - away from London and out of the hands of the British securocrats. It is about accountability and fundamental political change. Sinn Féin have already set out our stall for the maximum powers to be moved out of London and into an all Ireland context.

It is important for delegates to be reminded that Sinn Féin's position on policing has been consistent and is also very public and open. Any major change in Sinn Féin policy will only be as a result of a special Ard Fheis on this subject, it will be up to delegates at such an Ard Fheis to debate and vote on this important issue.

There is a great hunger for information to feed this important debate. If and when we return to a special Ard Fheis it should be with the maximum amount of information for delegate, members and indeed the community. The policing sub-committee have a presentation of facts around this issue. It was given at a well attended conference in Belfast in January on an all Ireland vision of Justice and Policing. We are committed to roll this out into the areas immediately after this Ard Fheis for information and as an aid to debate.

It is incumbent upon me also to repeat what I have said at, at least 3 successive Ard Fheisanna: We have made significant progress on the issues involved. It is my strong belief that we can achieve our goals on policing and justice in the context of an overall comprehensive agreement.

Like all comrades I am fighting for an all Ireland justice system just as we are continuing the struggle for a United Ireland. Equally, in the interim, we need to achieve a new beginning to policing and justice in the North, in the present, which will impact on the everyday lives of people and also impact on the all Ireland policing and justice systems.
It is perhaps inevitable that the key focus publicly is on policing in the North. However, the debate must also be about developing our all Ireland vision for the future. I am commending a 3 page document entitled 'Core principles and values on All-Ireland Justice Policy' to the Ard Fheis as an aid to that debate. Other delegates will speak to this. In that debate, there are many questions to be answered.

There are questions about the future development of policing and justice on this island which we must consider as a party, and as a society. These questions are not limited to the negotiations for transfer of powers on policing and justice.

This is a critical year in the peace process and political process. The more effective we are, the more rash our opponents become. That is no reason to abandon our agenda, as some motions in this section propose. In the face of the challenges ahead, we must hold our nerve. Keep on course comrades.

Let me finish by saying this, whatever happens in negotiations, key issues such as policing and justice cannot be put on the shelf to be dusted down when we achieve a united Ireland. People want us to deal with the everyday issues as well as the big picture. We must develop further our all Ireland vision for justice and policing. Let us look at this nationally as well as locally in the big picture and the small picture. Get involved in this debate comrades. It affects every single person living in Ireland.
Support Ard Comhairle motions 394 and 395. Go raibh maith agaibh

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