Communities require justice
At an award ceremony for a Community Restorative Justice project in West Belfast on Wednesday, Paul Mageean of the Committee on the Administration of Justice praised the CRJ programmes that are springing up throughout the Six Counties.
Community Restorative Justice, the process of resolving the issue of crime and punishment, is becoming extremely popular in working class areas. The process, based on community participation, seeks to resolve all the issues around crime. It is, therefore, not punishment-based. It acknowledges the hurt of those targeted by crime while at the same time getting the perpetrators of crime to accept their responsibility for the injustice they have visited on people in their communities and on the community as a whole.
Needless to say, the RUC and its role in the criminal justice process is a major talking point in the debate around CRJ. The RUC is implacably opposed to CRJ.
But one of the main reasons why the CRJ ethos has found acceptance within nationalist areas of the North is due to the lack of credible policing in those areas. The RUC is ``the enemy'' to nationalists in general and republicans in particular, a situation generated because of the oppression visited on natinalists by the RUC acting in the interests of unionism.
It is in the context of the `policing debate' that CRJ must be seen. Everyone acknowledges that communities must have policing and a `police service'; that the RUC is neither to nationalists is self-evident.
It is also in this context that the Patten Report into policing in the Six Counties must be placed.
Mageean also made the point that the Patten report, before it was published, was viewed as ``a floor'', something that could be built on. Now, after its publication, it is being seen as ``a ceiling'', appearing to represent the limits of change for the RUC.
Sinn Féin spokesperson Bairbre de Brún has told the British government that it is not acceptable that it dilute the Patten Report.
The British must accept that the issues of peace and justice as represented in the Good Friday Agreement and voted for in good faith are not going to become bargaining chips with which Tony Blair can gamble to appease unionism.
Blair and Mandelson must realise that nationalists and republicans will not accept or support anything less than the new beginning to policing promised in the Agreement.