New beginning and nothing less
Media reports that the British government intends to make further concessions to unionists over the RUC in advance of the Ulster Unionist Council meeting this coming Saturday should come as no surprise.
In one respect, it confirms what republicans have always said: the RUC is the armed wing of unionism. It also clarifies the political nature of the RUC as the first line of defence for unionist privilege. This was never a body dedicated to upholding the rule of law.
Given the political performance of Peter Mandelson in his seven or so months at Stormont, it should be less of a surprise that he should try this political stunt. His cynicism knows no bounds, it seems. As it stands, his policing bill is utterly unacceptable to republicans. The dilution of Patten that it represents is a signal from the British government that there will be no new beginning to policing. If implemented in its present form, it will also send wider signals about Britain's attitude towards the peace process.
The RUC and the policing issue in general is not for nationalists simply a debate about whether the ``police force'' we deal with, or who deals with us, is called the RUC or the `Police Service of Northern Ireland'. For nationalists, it is about human rights, it is about equality and the right to be treated fairly. It is about justice.
That these concepts are alien to the RUC was illustrated on Monday, when Lurgan Sinn Féin councillor John O'Dowd was arrested as he travelled to Craigavon Council for a meeting.
The RUC arrested a democratically elected councillor on his way to carry out his elective function simply because his politics are different to theirs.
The British and unionists cannot package the RUC as a police service to nationalists who have collectively been insulted, beaten, tortured, and killed, at times in carefully planned shoot-to-kill operations.
For nationalists to have any confidence that their rights can be upheld justly, without fear or favour, they need a justice system built on the core principles of equality and police officers who place justice and equality above their political allegiance.
Mandelson and Blair must be left in no doubt that republicans will accept nothing less than the new beginning promised in the Good Friday Agreement.