Republican News · Thursday 31 August 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Blair has just one chance on policing

Sinn Féin wants democratic and accountable force

In an address to party actiists in Strabane at the weekend, Sinn Féin national chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin addressed the vexed issue of policing. The Foyle Assembly member said:

``In the Six Counties, discrimination, inequality and abuses of human rights remain a feature of this state. By their very nature - policing, the Judiciary and the Civil Service are corrupt because of the fact that they were deliberately structured to serve one section of the population. All of these corruptions and injustices can be overcome but only if we make it happen.

Tony Blair on a visit to the North once said, ``I feel the hand of history on my shoulder''. I hope he realises that in the issue of policing, he has `the key to the future of the peace process in his hand'
The most recent slogan painted on the Walls of Derry reflects the continuing battle for Equality. It states that when the `law makers become the law breakers' then there is no law.

That is why we will continue to strive to build our political strength so that we can effect change. So that we are in a position to ensure that the `law makers do not become the law breakers' or if they do, that we are in a position to expose and sanction them. This is one of the reasons why we need to get the policing issue right.

Without an independent, impartial and civilianised policing service we can not hope to be able to tackle - among other problems - corruption in public life.

Policing in the long term like all other aspects of the Good Friday Agreement must be capable of being applied in an all-Ireland context. Policing is a touchstone issue and is fundamental to building a New Ireland.

One of the main recommendations of the Good Friday Agreement was the setting up of an accountable and representative policing service. The Patten Commission was given this task. All parties, community organisations, human rights groups and the general public made submissions.

What the Commission eventually recommended was not what Sinn Féin sought - total disbandment of the RUC and a genuinely new police service. But what it did produce could form the basis for a new BEGINNING to policing.

Unlike other parties, Sinn Féin did not endorse the Patten Report when it was published. We stated that we would wait to see the legislation before pronouncing whether or not we viewed the end product to contain the potential for a NEW policing service.

I think that everyone will agree that our sensible approach has been vindicated by the manner in which Peter Mandelson has subverted the Patten recommendations.

The British government must realise that - Patten is the floor not the ceiling. Patten must be something that we can build on - it is not the finished product. As the other aspects of the Good Friday Agreement are part of the evolving all-Ireland body politic, so too must Patten be able to evolve and as the New Ireland emerges be capable of developing into an all-Ireland policing service.

In an attempt to drive a wedge between nationalists and republicans, the British government, in the coming weeks will crank up its propaganda machine. Peter Mandelson is already involved in a cynical PR and lobbying exercise. The main thrust of his spin is the lie that Sinn Féin will NEVER sign up to any new policing service. Well let me spell it out for Peter Mandelson, the NIO spin-doctors and anyone else wishing to misrepresent our position. Republicans have campaigned for and need the security of a democratic and accountable policing service.

The Patten report, if implemented in its entirety, may give us the opportunity to do just that. The Mandelson Policing Bill will not but will lead instead to avoidable stalemate and division.

The GFA recognised the requirement for a new civic policing service that is democratically accountable, working in partnership with all citizens, and upholding international standards of human rights. Only then will we be able to ensure that the `law makers do not become the law breakers'.

The policing issue does not need to become the political battleground that the British government is making it into. It is still possible to create a new policing service that is capable of attracting republicans, nationalists and unionists.

I would also like to clarify a very important point. Republicans have never said that no serving member of the RUC would be acceptable in the new policing service. But whilst no republican would claim that every member of the RUC (past or serving) is a sectarian bigot, it is nevertheless true that many of them are.

The RUC as an organisation has provided cover for those within its ranks that have colluded with loyalist murder gangs, including the killings of human rights lawyers Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson.

The RUC have supported and indeed protected and promoted those who have systematically abused the human rights of nationalists and republicans throughout their careers in the RUC. Those members have no role to play in a new policing service. For those reasons the British government and the unionists must divest themselves of any notion of a repackaged or a `Continuity' RUC.

This is a touchstone issue for supporters of the Peace Process. Tony Blair on a visit to the North once said, ``I feel the hand of history on my shoulder''.

I hope he realises that in the issue of policing, he has `the key to the future of the peace process in his hand'. He will only get one chance to get it right. Will he open up a new beginning to policing or will he lock us into the divisions of yet another British policy failure?

While Sinn Féin will continue to do battle to achieve the new beginning to policing that the Good Friday Agreement promised, we are under no illusion that we have the political strength to achieve that result on our own. We will have to convince both the SDLP and the Catholic Church that our people will accept nothing less and therefore we must maintain a united front on this issue.''

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