RUC proposals fall short
By Michael Pierse
The burial of Volunteer Tom Williams this week evoked the memory of a young man whose conviction, integrity and courage has been an inspiration to republicans for almost 60 years. It was also indicative of the slow, arduous pace of change, which is constantly frustrated by the same elements responsible for the execution of Williams 57 years ago.
The organisation that captured Williams on that fateful day in 1942 was once again the focus for much media attention this week. Peter Mandelson's curt proposals on the RUC were accompanied by a speech which purposefully ignored the suffering and bloodshed inflicted by the RUC, while expounding their supposed virtues with a plethora of laudatory remarks. Indeed, the reasons for which the Patten Commission on the RUC was founded did not even feature in Mandelson's speech in the House of Commons. No mention was made of the victims of RUC intimidation, collusion at the highest levels with loyalist forces, interrogation and cold blooded assassination. No mention of the killings of Robert Hamill, Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson and the stark indictment they pose of the RUC's record. No mention either, of any intentions but to leave the questions surrounding these deaths unresolved.
The British prosposals met with a swift reaction from the Relatives for Justice Campaign: ``We are totally appalled at the announcement by Peter Mandelson that the current RUC boss, Ronnie Flanagan, is to have responsibility for overseeing the implementation of human rights within the new policing structures,'' said the organisation's spokesperson Jim McCabe. ``Flanagan in charge of human rights is a real case of contradiction in terms and certainly does not augur well for the future,'' he said.
Sinn Féin is witholding a definitive response on Mandelson's announcements pending the introduction of planned legislation. ``Sinn Féin's position on the RUC is clear. So is our position on the need to establish a new policing service,'' party spokesperson on policing Gerry Kelly stated. ``Obviously, we need to see the legislation before making a definitive response to the proposals on the future of policing. It must be remembered that the final judgement on these proposals will be whether or not young nationalists will want to or be able to join the policing service,'' he said.
The failure of the proposals to map out the manner and timescale in which they are intended to be imposed was an ominous omission, he believed. ``We have today only received a broad outline of the British Government's intentions. I am concerned that political threats from the UUP and others to collapse the entire Agreement over the Patten proposals are tied up with this,'' said Kelly.
The demise of the RUC will not be a victory for republicans at the expense of unionists. The RUC has been the architect of its own destiny and it has been shown to be partial and corrupt
UUP security spokesperson Ken Maginnis was aggrieved that what he termed ``the scum of parochial politics'' (that's Sinn Féin), in particular Tyrone Assembly member Barry McElduff, could be holding two seats on the proposed Policing Board. Mandelson retorted, accusing Maginnis of clandestine support for British policies on the RUC - ``I am therefore surprised that he chooses to say differently in public what he says in private.''
The monotonous unionist demand for decomissioning again reared its ugly head throughout the media this past week. It was not enough that their champions of decommissioning, the LVF, have bloodily reasserted the destabilising threat they pose. Unionists, amongst others, continued unabated to enthuse their fervour for the issue.
That arch-weaver of UUP spin, John Taylor, was predictably at it again: ``If they start decommissioning, then that's great news, and of course, the whole situation would have been transformed, but if they don't, then of course the whole executive will fail.''
Adding to the pessimistic stubborness of this unionist soothsayer were the unhelpful comments from Bertie Ahern. He said that, in the event that decomissioning of weaponry by May 2000 does not happen, ``the entire thing will fall apart... Whatever happens after that...'' Surely this forecasting of total collapse only plays into the hands of those who detract from the process. And Ahern must know this only too well.
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams addressed this issue while on a visit to Washington this week. He said that issuing ``deadlines and ultimatums'' was the wrong way of approaching the decommissioning issue and that worldwide experiences had shown this to be the case. He also reiterated the provisions of the Agreement, which have relegated the issue to the de Chastelain Commission, where it should stay, and not as a political football and obstacle to progress.
Martin McGuinness pointed to the real source of unionist frustration. Citing the response from unionists to his appointment as Six-County Minister for Education, he explained that they simply didn't want ``a Catholic or a Fenian about the place''. ``Our message is very clear,'' he said. ``We are now about the place.''
While we digest the bones of the British announcements on the RUC and their likely impact, or lack thereof, it is apt that we should consider the memory of Tom Williams.
He lightly gave his young life in pursuit of freedom and justice. The RUC that he fought remains today a unionist force for a unionist people. Williams, like many other Volunteers before and after, was a respected protector of his people. We look to the day when young nationalists and republicans like him can pledge their allegiance to a policing service founded on the principles of justice, equality and accountability.
The demise of the RUC will not be a victory for republicans at the expense of unionists. The RUC has been the architect of its own destiny and it has been shown to be partial and corrupt. Today, there have been endless eulogies to the RUC, led by Mandelson and the unionists. Do they not understand how unpalatable nationalists and republicans find this behaviour? We can stomach it, however, as long as we get real and lasting change in policing, which must encompass far more than names and symbols.